Thousands of small-scale hydroelectric schemes could power homes without damaging wildlife in rivers around the country, according to an Environment Agency study.
The agency mapped the energy hotspots of English and Welsh rivers and identified almost 26,000 locations where turbines could be installed to generate electricity from the water.
That number of small-scale schemes could power 850,000 homes and produce 1.5% of the UK’s electricity needs.
Not all those sites could be developed, as some could damage the environment or are in places with practical constraints, such as difficulty accessing the local electricity grid.
Around half the sites are in environmentally sensitive areas and would need fish-friendly measures such as screens to stop fish getting killed by turbines.
But with many of the potential locations in areas where humans have interfered with the natural landscape - for example by putting in a weir - there is potential to generate green electricity and improve the local environment at the same time, the EA said.
Sensitively designed schemes which included fish passes, enabling species such as salmon to navigate around the turbine or other technology, could provide a “win-win” situation for the environment in more than 4,000 areas.
The potential for schemes which could benefit the local environment are particularly concentrated on rivers such as the Severn, Thames, Aire and Neath, according to the study.
Small-scale hydropower will also benefit from Government subsidies which will pay people to generate small-scale green energy, making investment in the green energy source more attractive.
Under the “feed-in tariff” scheme, which comes in at the beginning of April, hydropower schemes could qualify for up to 20p for every kilowatt hour of hydroelectricity produced.
A medium-sized scheme costing £100,000 to £150,000 to set up and providing enough electricity to power 32 homes, could receive around £25,000 a year in subsidies, the Environment Agency estimates.
Head of climate change and sustainable development at the Environment Agency, Tony Grayling, said: “With the Government’s new feed-in tariff for renewably generated electricity, hydropower could become an attractive income generator for hydropower developers, if environmental safeguards are met.”