Tucked away in a remote valley you’ll find one of the UK’s oldest renewable energy power stations.
For 60 years, Rheidol Hydroelectric Station, near Aberystwyth, has been generating clean electricity from abundant rain.
Operators say Wales has the key ingredients to be a “strong player” in green energy production, but the Institute of Welsh Affairs has warned that progress has been too slow.
The Welsh Government said it had bold ambitions to meet energy needs.
She is due to speak later on her plans to tackle climate change as world leaders meet in Egypt for the COP27 summit.
Renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydro meet 56% of Wales’ electricity demand, but the Welsh Government hopes this will reach 70% by 2030, although this is currently under review.
People are “always amazed” when they fall over the huge hydroelectric station in Ceredigion’s scenic Cwm Rheidol valley, according to boss Dennis Geyermann.
“But that’s the story of renewable energy – it’s bringing interesting high-tech jobs to rural areas,” he said.
Consisting of a series of interconnected reservoirs, dams, underground tunnels and power stations, it is the largest project of its kind in Wales and England.
It covers a total area of 62 square miles (162 square kilometers) and provides enough electricity to power up to 15,000 homes.
Since 2008, it has been owned by Statkraft, a branch of the Norwegian government and the largest renewable energy producer in Europe.
From here, the company’s other renewable energy projects – as far away as the Scottish Highlands – are also monitored 24 hours a day.
“This is like the brains of the business,” explained Mr. Geyermann, vice president for operations and maintenance.
He said the company – which recently announced it hoped to develop a new green hydrogen plant in Pembrokeshire – had a “major project pipeline for the UK”.
And Wales, in particular, could be “a strong player in renewable energy”, he added.
“We’ve got the right landscape, we’ve got enough rain and wind and there’s a lovely coastline,” he said.
“The Welsh want it too.”
Sarah South, who is in charge of health and safety at Statkraft UK, grew up nearby and remembers fishing with her father in the scheme’s reservoirs, as well as countless school trips to the area.
He said he would encourage young people to get the skills needed to take advantage of the “big push” towards green energy.
“English, science, maths, geography – you might think they’re boring subjects at school – but they’re going to be really important,” he said.
“It’s such a big industry coming up now and so important to the future of the world.”
Built in 1962, long before concern about climate change hit the headlines, Rheidol’s hydropower system has seen an energy revolution in the UK.
At the time, almost all of our power came from burning coal.
Fast forward to 2020 and, for the first time in more than 200 years, official energy statistics showed that coal played no part in Wales’ energy mix.
And 56% of the country’s electricity demand is now met by renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydro.
Officially, the Welsh Government’s target is to reach 70% by 2030, although this is currently under review.
“Progress is too slow”
Auriol Miller, director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs think-tank, said progress had, so far, been too slow.
“We need to look higher, faster and faster in terms of these goals,” he argued.
The think-tank has urged Welsh ministers to aim for 100% by 2035 in a series of reports in recent years.
Scotland, by comparison, is almost there already.
Neil Lewis, founder of Carmarthenshire Energy which has helped develop wind, solar and electric vehicle projects across the county, said it took a long time to get the plans off the ground.
“We have colleagues who have built community wind farms that took 10 to 20 years to get a permit to build them,” he said.
“It is very important that we accelerate our efforts.”
Meanwhile, the Senedd’s climate change committee also expressed concern about the slowdown in renewable energy development since 2015.
The Welsh Government, which this year carried out what it described as an in-depth inquiry into the barriers facing renewables, has promised new targets by next summer and a national energy plan by 2024.
It also announced earlier this month that it had set up a state-owned renewable energy development company for Wales – a first in the UK.
“Wealth and Value”
In a statement, the Welsh Government said it had “bold ambitions for renewable energy generation to at least fully meet our energy needs in Wales – while receiving a fair share of its wealth and value”.
He said it is “making progress towards our goals, but we need to go further and faster.”
“We are supporting local organizations to tackle climate change and will support businesses to develop their staff for a clean energy future,” he added.
“In this cost of living crisis, we need to focus on finding the most affordable, least effective solution, as the decisions we make today will have a huge impact on generations to come.”