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Turnbull says Tasmania wind, hydro can become “energy battery” for Australia

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Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has extended his vision of large-scale pumped hydro and storage to Tasmania, outlining plans to expand the island’s existing hydropower system, and possibly add 2,500MW in pumped hydro, and describing the possibility that the state could become the “renewable energy battery” for Australia.

The announcement comes just weeks after Turnbull unveiled a new study to investigate the so-called “Snowy 2.0”, a plan to add 2GW – with up to 175 hours of storage – in pumped hydro capacity in the Snowy Mountains; a move that would effectively kill the prospect of new coal or gas plants.

The latest announcement, made in Launceston with the Tasmanian premier and the state-owned Hydro Tasmania on Thursday, canvasses the possibility of adding a new cable between the island and the mainland, and significantly boosting both hydro capacity and wind energy to supply “baseload” renewables to the major markets.

Turnbull said the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) was in the process of assessing applications from Hydro Tasmania to support feasibility work into redeveloping the Tarraleah scheme and enhancing the Gordon Power Station.

gordon dam 2

It’s also considering an application to explore the utility of several new pumped hydro energy storage schemes that could deliver up to 2500MW of pumped hydro capacity: Mersey Forth-1, Mersey Forth-2, Great Lake and Lake Burbury – with capacity of around 500-700 MW each – and an alternative of nine small scale sites totalling 500MW.

“Its importance has become greater as the energy market has evolved. there is an opportunity for more wind and hydro today,” Turnbull said.

“We recognise that as the energy sources changes, we need to ensure that we have the storage … we have announced a study for the Snowy Hydro, but there is the opportunity here in Tasmania.

“It can double the capacity of hydro Tasmania, and it has the best wind assets in Australia. The roaring forties … are fantastic for wind farms. There is an opportunity for Tasmania to play a bigger part in ensuring that Australia has reliable and affordable energy, and meet emission reduction targets.

“Tasmania could become a renewable battery storage for Australia in an era of distributed, renewable power.”

The announcement came in tandem with the release of a study by Dr John Tamblyn into a second interconnector. Dr Tamblyn’s report finds another interconnector might be beneficial, but will depend on the ongoing development of the electricity system in Tasmania and the National Electricity Market.

Hydro Tasmania’s CEO Steve Davy said the company was looking to upgrade and expanding Tasmania’s hydropower network, as well as the potential for new private wind farm development and pumped storage opportunities, “to help lead Australia through the challenging (energy) transition.”

“We have nation-leading expertise in integrating renewable energy into the grid in a stable and affordable way. We’ve done that innovatively and successfully in Tasmania, and it’s the very challenge mainland Australia is starting to grapple with,” Davy said in a statement.

The studies would include an investigation into replacing one of Tasmania’s oldest operating power stations at Tarraleah in the Central Highlands, and expanding it from around 550GWh of renewable energy each year  to more than 760GWh. The proposal involves constructing a 17-kilometre long underground tunnel from Lake King William and adding pumped hydro capacity.

There is also a study to add a third, smaller turbine to the Gordon power station, the largest in Tasmania, and the only station on the Gordon/Pedder scheme.

Addendum: Mike Sandiford from the Melbourne Energy Institute wrote two years ago about the opportunities for wind and hydro export from Tasmania, noting that even with the current Basslink, which was able to sustain an additional 500MW of additional northward flow, it could accommodate as much as 1400MW of new wind.

“We have glimpsed an opportunity for Tasmania in a carbon constrained world as a net energy exporter. Not without some sense of irony, Tasmania’s long investment in hydro makes it the greenest, low-emission power supplier in Australia by a very long margin.

“As a window into a carbon constrained world, the last few years have shown us just how well positioned Tasmania is by virtue of being connected via Basslink directly into one of the developed world’s most emission intensive jurisdictions – namely Victoria.

“The catch is that over the long-term Tasmania has only enough generation capacity to provide for itself. With its power supply vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the seasonal rainfall variability, the primary roles of Basslink to date have been to provide Tasmania with security of supply and, for its generators, a market arbitrage opportunity.

“But the carbon pricing years show how Basslink also provides Tasmania with the infrastructure for sustained export of electricity, should it increase generation capacity.

Hydro has particular value in managing electricity systems in a carbon constrained world. With its large storage capacity, and ability to adjust output quickly, it provides the battery potential to firm more variable generation such as wind power.

Indeed, the inherent value of wind is increased by coupling with a large dispatch-able storage system such as hydro. Consequently Tasmania potentially provides one of the best investment opportunities for wind generation in Australia.

With Basslink able to sustain around 500 megawatts of additional northward flow, Tasmania could accommodate an investment of as much as 1400 megawatts in new wind, assuming a wind resource with a capacity factor of around 35%.

“Such an investment would cost around $2.8 billion for the generation capacity plus some for the local transmission extension to connect into Basslink. It would provide around 2000 job years during the build phase, up to 300 ongoing jobs and, depending on the cost of carbon, return around $150 – $250 million each year in wholesale market returns and a similar amount in Renewable Energy Certificates.

An additional 1.4 gigawatt capacity delivering on average 500 megawatt output, firmed by the existing hydro capacity, would generate an additional 4,400 gigawatt hours of reliable power each year, representing over 10% of the current large scale RET target, currently enshrined at 41,000 gigawatt hours.

“And the clincher for Tasmania – the investment could be entirely paid for by mainland consumers. As we glimpsed during the carbon tax years, the northward flow electrons is one way of exciting the southward flow of dollars for much needed investment in Tasmanian industry.”

  

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  • George Darroch

    What are the barriers to building a second cable in the short term?

    • Charles

      Mainly financial I’d say – the current capacity on Basslink is sufficient. Sometimes it flows north, sometimes south. If Hydro was selling 100% of the time (ie. always flowing north) then another cable would be justified, especially if we get another few hundred MW of wind farms up.

      Part of it is a knee-jerk reaction to the issues with Basslink last year. But there are much cheaper ways to protect against that than a second cable.

  • Marka

    Can’t imagine this will come cheap

  • AEMO’s interactive map has a case study for a second Bass Strait cable from Tyabb (VIC) to Smithton (TAS) rated at capable of 600MW.

    Basslink is rated for 500MW, no? So @ “up to 2500MW” of new capacity, in order to exploit it all on the mainland, the 2nd link would need to be handle – much – more?

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/42584fd5f634f43bc1a0547984e7e0618265325e6e1c662c49db3d4246d70836.png

  • Chris Fraser

    Should the undersea cables tun via the Islands (just in case that wind resource gets developed) ?

  • Tim Buckley

    It would be great to see the financial profile of such a wind-pumped hydro-subsea cable investment. In theory this sounds brilliant – just the sort of thing to help transition the Australian electricity system into the current century. However, developing a plan for the NEM piecemeal to satisfy the need for mega-project announcements by our PM is likely to be more costly for the consumer. A beautiful aspect of renewables in the more modular nature of projects, and speed of construction that results. Hopefully PM Turnbull is getting sufficient advice from ARENA and CEFC about the relative merits of more rapidly deployed options spanning all storage technologies and looking at SA, Tasmania through to NSW and Qld (like Genex). If 50-100MW solar and battery storage projects can be deployed in 12 months, probably a more important stop-gap measure than the mega projects that will take 5-10 years to do feasibility, EIS, construction and commissioning. None-the-less, good to see our PM at least starting to talk about viable solutions to the current energy policy debacle.

    • George Darroch

      I doubt there’s such a degree of planning from the Trumbull Government. Their approach seems quite ad hoc.

      • Thucydides

        I’d say the LNPs’ approach has been very consistent. It has been faithfully preaching the dogma of their policy arm (the mining industry funded Institute for Public Affairs) on the bright future for fossil fuels since well before Abbott took government. Their plans were – and still are – to run a scare campaign about renewables driving up power prices to justify building new coal fired power stations. But finance, business and now the general public think this is lunacy.

        Revealed as clueless in response to the looming problems in the NEM Turnbull’s government is now desperate for positive announceables with a big infrastructure spend that can only be undertaken by government. Ironic, isn’t it?

  • Bungarra

    While this may be a solution to suit SE Australia, what about the rest of the Continent?

    Processing ores before export could be a good way of encouraging greater returns for the nation. For example, converting bauxite to aluminum does produce a more valuable product. We pay 50 times as much for the metal as for the metal sold as bauxite. The has been some discussion re Aluminum batteries, so a R&D project could be quite profitable, rather than sending royalties to patent holders elsewhere. We have plenty of that.

    Just as the comment which reputably originated in QLD – “I feel an election coming on, they are talking about a new dam”, I wonder if our leaders are totally stuck in the echo chamber of fake news and insulated from the rapid rate of change in energy. To develop relatively portable power systems based on solar, wind etc will open up a lucrative market in the Pacific etc where long distance electricity transmission is not favored as the islands are too far apart. Similar issues re most of the Outback.

    After the problems in QLD and SA re weather, more localized systems are more robust as one accident/event does not take out the whole grid. Time to go back to the aftermath of WW2 and re-examine the ideas of Civil Defense. We also need to shake off the ideas imposed by Colonialism / Globalization ( Now associated with Tax avoidance) where the few rule the majority for their benefit. What is best for the nation not just for special interests.

    • George Darroch

      Well there’s Wivenhoe, tragically underutilised (because it suits the generator to ration supply and take higher prices).

  • Rod

    Obviously just building some wind and saving the hydro for low wind days or export is too simplistic. Pumped storage just adds to the complexity, cost and time to completion.

    • Peter Campbell

      I would have thought that greater capacity in a second interconnect and lots of wind generation would be higher priorities than pumped hydro additions that could be left for later. To whatever extent the wind is blowing, water can stay uphill that would otherwise have flowed downhill to meet electricity demand. IE the existing hydro acts as storage. Then turn on the taps whenever the price/demand is high on the mainland.
      Put another way, any time the price looks like being high enough to be worthwhile to burn some coal or gas, turn on the hydro.

  • Chris Drongers

    Watch out for the announcement of another 2GW x 8 hr pumped hydro scheme in central or northern Qld, either in the Paluma hinterland behind Townsville (and powered by coal or by large solar and wind – Kennedy Energy Park) or inland of Rockhampton at Bogantungan or Bluff.
    I don’t have any reasoning for this (but neither does Malcolm have a reasoned renewable energy strategy) except that a big Qld pumped hydro would then balance out storage along the whole east coast (Townsville/Snowy/Tasmania) and take pressure off the limited interconnectors and be positioned to accept wind (from on the Dividing Range) or solar (on the sunlit plains extending westward).

  • Jo

    … to supply “baseload” renewables to the major markets. …
    Could we please finally stop this nonsense and never ever again call pumped hydro baseload.
    Pumped hydro is just the opposite of baseload. It is a flexible supply that can quickly rump up and down, exactly what baseload cannot do.
    Yes, you can mimic baseload with pumped hydro in the same way a violin can mimic a constant 1000 Hz tone. But it can do so much more!

  • Ian

    This is good, very good. Tasmania is a beautiful place and any development there must be sensitive to environmental issues.When these sorts of pumped storage facilities are built new dams may be required. The idea of routing a Basslink through King Island sounds interesting, the Bass strait is fairly shallow in places so the potential for off shore wind could be explored.

  • onesecond

    How come Turnbull is now all about pumped storage? I appreciate it, but after lobbying so long for coal it is a little bit hard to believe.

    • Rod

      Once you understand that the hydro pumping can be from coal or gas which would enable the dinosaurs to chug along in the wee hours you will believe.

  • Just_Chris

    IMO Increasing the amount of wind in tassie so they can constantly supply the maximum 500 MW through the bass link to the mainland is a total no brainier. It is dumb this is not done now. When the wind blows let the dam storage rise, when the wind drops run the hydro – it isn’t rocket science, all that is required is more wind farms. For 500 MW constantly you’d need 1200MW – that is really not that much on such a big empty island.

    How big the 2nd link needs to be remains open to debate same goes for how much extra pumped storage can be or needs to be added. There will be a point of diminishing returns but my feeling is we are a long way from it.

    • Ren Stimpy

      Agree. If they are going to deploy an expensive team to double the capacity of the Bass link, then why not save future costs as well by instead quadrupling the capacity of the Bass link while they are at it. It won’t go to waste, because Tassie is a very windy place particularly in the less populated west (ideally suited to wind turbines), perfectly suited to wind energy for the three purposes of
      – bulk export over the Bass link to brown coal Victoria, earning vital revenue for the state of Tassie
      – supply to the local Tassie market (which will maintain their dams levels as a side effect)
      – pumping water uphill (Australia’s battery) in times of wind energy and Bass link surplus

      In the last few years Tasmania has been shown that it is not immune to drought and water shortage in these rapid climate change times. They shouldn’t leave it too late to insure themselves from these problems

  • Ray Miller

    And still Australia does not have an energy policy. Random casino announcements that maybe of use is still not a plan.. This announcement does not add to the current governments credibility just the opposite.

  • solarguy

    It all sounds like a logical investment, but how long to dig a 17km tunnel and I bet there will massive cost blow outs. Not to mention the cost of the interconnector. umm.

  • trackdaze

    Irrespective if batteries are cheaper broadening hydro capability is a good thing.