FIRST MINISTER Alex Salmond has announced that Scotland should aim to double its hydro electric output in 10 years, and that the country is on the brink of a hydro power 'renaissance'.

While much of that will be delivered at the larger end of the scale of installations, sector supporters believe that there is a 'wealth of untapped potential' that could justify many more farm and estate scale projects.

Commenting on Scottish Power's work towards possibly doubling the capacity of the iconic Ben Cruachan pump storage station, Mr Salmond said it opened another chapter in Scotland's 'outstanding history' of harnessing renewables.

"In 1945, fewer than half of the homes in the Highlands had access to electricity," he noted. "By 1959, that proportion had increased to over 90% through the forethought and leadership of Tom Johnston, who led the hydro electric revolution.

"Today, the Scottish Government recognises the potential for future development at Cruachan and other similar proposals for hydro electric storage, to contribute to a balanced mix of energy generation across Scotland. This could see hydro power generate up to one third of Scotland's entire generating capacity in the next decade."

Speaking from Blairgowrie based firm Glen Hydro, which develops hydro schemes up to 2mW scale, Luke Milner welcomed the First Minister's comments, and Scottish Power's expansion plans, but highlighted the 'considerable opportunity' for individual farmers and landowners to be a part of the revolution.

"Hydro has been eclipsed in recent years by both onshore and offshore wind in the drive to reach Scotland's target of achieving 100% of its own electricity requirement from renewables by 2020," said Mr Milner.

"As a technology, hydro has been developed in Scotland for more than a century and has a strong track record in providing discreet, environmentally sensitive renewable power. Its low profile is hard to understand when you consider the wide availability of the natural resources required to drive it - hills and rain, its minimal environmental impact compared to other technologies, proven systems, available finance, efficiency, and relative ease of planning.

"We are talking to land owners and farmers the length and breadth of Scotland, both in a consultancy and development capacity, about the potential of small and medium scale hydro on their land," he said. "In hydro, big is not necessarily best, and small or medium sized can be equally beautiful.

"Those with potential development capacity should not be put off by Government's response to these major schemes, which by their nature will be limited in number. The vast range of smaller schemes mean that in total they can form a significant element of all hydro power generated in Scotland over the next 10 years.

"Whilst the big schemes will help enormously in terms of pumped storage, far smaller developments will be keeping a lot of the lights on - particularly in rural areas. Let us hope that the First Minister's support of large pumped storage schemes is also reflected across the rest of the sector and helps to create the new boom in Scottish hydro that we truly believe is just round the corner."