WHEN OLIVER Routledge and his wife Shara took over his dad's farm at Selcoth near Moffat two years ago, the family had already been looking into the prospect of installing a hydro power scheme on the land.

With an enviable location encompassing a whole catchment area and 1400 acres of hilly rough-grazing land spanning into the Southern Uplands, using the natural resources seemed a logical option.

The couple graze 450 blackies on the land, but the main part of the business is the fish farm, which produces 150-200 tonnes of rainbow trout for on-growing.

It is this main business that eats up energy and the prospect of cutting down on electricity bills, as well as on necessary liquid oxygen for optimum fish growth, was appealing.

The hydro scheme is not yet wired into the fish farm but an enthusiastic Mr Routledge is already pleased with the energy produced as the turbine's first anniversary gets closer.

Alongside his dad Peter, Mr Routledge started looking into hydro schemes in 2009 and a lack of grid connection meant work couldn't begin until 2012.

He explained: "We started looking at hydro in 2009 and started building in 2012, it took so long because of an issue with grid connection, we re-built the whole infrastructure from Moffat to the fish farm, which is quite unusual."

When the grid connection was signed off, the civils work, including the construction of the inlet and laying of pipes, was done by Glendinnings Groundworks, Innerleithen and Mr Routledge was impressed, he said: "We used Glendinnings to do the civils and they were brilliant - they do a lot of work for Scottish Water and did a top quality job."

With guidance from GreenCat Renewables the turbine chosen was a 190kW Gilkes Single Jet Pelton turbine. Gilkes are based in Kendal and having a UK manufacturer was important to both Mr Routledge and his dad. He said: "They are the international market leaders in run of river turbines and have been building turbines for over 100 years.

"As farmers we spend a lot of time expounding on the benefits of Scotch lamb, beef and pork then we go off and buy foreign turbines. Buy UK, it's important and we have the expertise."

He also noted that though Gilkes turbines may be a bit more expensive than their over-seas counterparts, their quality and level of customer service more than make up for it. One of their engineers just happens to live in Moffat four miles from the site.

The turbine was commissioned on September 19, 2013 and has almost met its budgeted annual output of 750,000kW hours.

"We budgeted for 750,000kW hours annually and we will nearly have done that by the end of March, though it has been an exceptionally wet winter", said Mr Routledge, "No doubt there will be dryer years but we are hopeful that we've underestimated the hydrology up there and the scheme is a bit stronger than we first thought.

"Like many newly commissioned schemes this year it has run at an 85% efficiency, but it's coming into summer now so we expect a considerable slow down in the summer months. We are hopeful it'll do 1m kWh in the first year which is a strong start and stands the business in great stead going forward."

And as for payback on the initial investment? Mr Routledge is hopeful that will take about five to six years.

He is keen to connect the hydro scheme to the fish farm, as well as farm buildings, and is hopeful that this can be done gradually over the coming years when the yearly service of the turbine provides some down time.

Once this connection has been made, Mr Routledge estimates it could save the business around £15,000 per year by cutting electricity bills. He also hopes in the future it will let him invest in sophisticated technology for the fish farm which would let him generate oxygen onsite, rather than buy in expensive liquid oxgygen. This would result in further savings to the business.

When it comes to maintenance of the system, it's minimal in part because the intake uses a Coanda screen. Mr Routledge said: "The burn has a massive amount of shifting gravel and the coanda is an 'S' shape, meaning it self-cleans and doesn't block it up.

"In a remote location you don't want to have to clean it every day, I check it every week and give it a scrub but there's never much to take off."

He's also looking forward to the first 'pigging' of the pipe which he enthusiastically explained as such: "Once a year we have to do 'pig' the pipe which involves putting a foam 'pig' down the pipe to clean out residues so that the turbine doesn't lose efficiency."

The turbine also uses the latest technology which lets Mr Routledge see exactly how much energy is being generated at any time, he said: "The technology is fantastic, we have broadband into the turbine house which updates to my phone, but I still physically check the turbine everyday. I run a daily log of outputs, bearing temperatures, head pressure etc, as though technology is valuable, it is key to also be physically involved in these projects. By regular inspection one hopes to identify a problem at an early stage."

Mr Routledge is keen to talk about the benefits of renewable energy and sees the installation on his farm as "a thing of great beauty".

He is also a bit of a renewables expert, and works as a renewables and energy consultant for property firm Knight Frank.

This practical knowledge has given him extra knowledge he can pass on to his clients when helping negotiate rents for farmers or landowners or helping third parties develop their own renewable systems.

He said: "In the early days farmers got caught out and now rents are a lot higher. Good advice is so important. A lot of work goes into installing a renewable scheme. They are complicated, time consuming and hard work, but if one sticks at them, they will reward you."