Underwater Compressed Air: Potential Sites

This is a list of some of the most promising sites in Scotland, plus a few in England and Wales. There are more, particularly in Scotland where many of the unlisted ones have greater potential than any of the English or Welsh ones. I only give areas at the surface and at up to three depths for each site. The GWh figures are based on the assumption that the air vessels are at the given depths, and are of such a size that filling and emptying them causes the water level in the lake to rise and fall by no more than a metre (except Loch Lomond, limited to about 20cm for practical reasons). There’s no magic about the particular depths: you could have multiple systems at different depths in the same lake, possibly one above the other in some parts of the lake, and you could achieve the same energy storage with less variation in water levels by doing so.

Those assumptions are very arbitrary. You could store (much) more energy, at the cost of causing water levels in the lakes to rise and fall more as the air reservoirs fill and empty; or you might choose to affect the environment less and accept a smaller capacity. If the engineers of conventional pumped hydro systems are honest, their figures are of the same sort: how big a dam do you want to put across that high valley for your upper reservoir? How much do you want the water level in your lower reservoir to vary? (One assumes that they’re happy to allow the upper reservoir to fill and empty almost completely.)

(That particular point has an interesting consequence for underwater compressed air in the lower reservoir – you can pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper at the same time as filling the air vessels under the lower reservoir, which reduces any change in level in the lower reservoir, possibly to zero. This is already relevant at Loch Ness and Loch Awe, and could be at many future sites.)

Site Map
Number
Surface
Area
1st
Depth
Area 2nd
Depth
Area 3rd
Depth
Area GWh
Loch Lomond 56 7100 60 836 100 648 150 284 400+
Loch Ness 26 5640 150 2736 200 1413 123
Loch Morar 40 2670 200 508 250 217 73
Loch Tay 51 2639 100 512 29
Loch Awe 55 3850 50 815 70 345 90 80 29
Loch Maree 19 2860 50 936 70 436 90 132 26
Loch Katrine 56/57 1312 100 311 130 168 140 48 18
Wastwater 89 280 50 112 70 54 2.13
Bala Lake 125 484 30 109 1.58
Llyn Cowlyd 115 98 50 23 60 14 0.64
Total ~700

(Areas are in hectares, depths in metres. Map numbers are OS Landranger series, which have the underwater contours that I used to find the approximate areas at various depths. The GWh values are the actual energy values of the compressed air: it would take rather more energy to compress it, and you would get rather less back – but the values are only approximate anyway.)