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Victoria eyes solar and pumped hydro for former mining centres

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One Step Off The Grid

Some of Victoria’s key former gold and coal mining centres have been revealed as the latest focus of the state Labor government’s renewable energy plans, with the announcement of $1 million fund to support the development of community renewables hubs, and to investigate the potential for solar and pumped hydro storage.

Former mine site in Bendigo

The Andrews government said on Wednesday that it has set aside $900,000 for three, two-year pilot Community Power Hubs, in Bendigo, Ballarat and the Latrobe Valley.

State energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the hubs would support the development of renewable energy projects by providing legal and technical expertise, as well as start-up funding. Eligible projects could include solar gardens and community wind farms, with expressions of interest now open to host a Community Power Hub.

On top of this, another $100,000 would be dedicated to a feasibility study into whether Bendigo’s empty mine shafts could be used to generate and store renewable energy.

The potential for disused mine infrastructure to be repurposed for renewable energy generation and storage is generating considerable interest in Australia, particularly off the back of the progress of Genex Power’s Kidston solar and pumped hydro project in Queensland, that is being developed at an old gold mine site.

In Victoria, the feasibility study will be supported by an additional $50,000 for the City of Greater Bendigo to investigate the viability of using solar powered pumped hydro to generate and store electricity.

According to the Andrews government, early calculations suggest a pumped hydro and solar facility in the region could generate up to 784kWh – boosting the reliability of the local power grid, creating local jobs and supporting the growth of local businesses.

It would also have the potential to provide around the clock electricity supply and make Bendigo a net exporter of renewable energy, the government said.

“Interest in community energy projects has increased significantly over the years, with communities wanting greater control over their energy and associated costs,” said D’Ambrosio in a statement on Wednesday.

“Solar pumped hydro has the potential to store and generate significant amounts of energy. This feasibility study is the first key step towards realising the benefits of solar pumped hydro for the Bendigo region.”

Local environmental group Friends of the Earth welcomed the new fund, and said it hoped the government would build on this “positive first step” by ensuring the Latrobe Valley – home to the recently shuttered Hazelwood coal-fired power station – gets a slice of investment under the Victorian Renewable Energy Target.

“The Andrews government can secure jobs and investment for the Latrobe Valley by ensuring it gets a slice of the Victorian Renewable Energy Target,” said FoE renewables spokesperson, Pat Simons.

“The Latrobe Valley has a long history in power generation. The region is well placed for solar, wind, and energy storage projects to boost jobs and help the state meet its ambitious renewables target.”

This article was originally published on RenewEconomy’s sister site, One Step Off The Grid, which focuses on customer experience and ambitions with distributed generation. To sign up to One Step’s free weekly newsletter, please click here.  

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  • George Darroch

    Does anyone have links to the mine sites they have in mind?

    • Chris

      George refer to my reply to Peter F above – we propose to investigate the use of some of the previously 5,000 shafts (some up to 1,000 metres deep) across Bendigo. There will be lots of factors that dictate which sites will work best but they can be staged and paired sites added to many times over time depending on outcomes and water level responses from tests and the first installations. The highest energy storage and instantaneous power generation potential will be gained by using all 7 historic working systems and many many shaft pairs (each with a high water level working and a low water level working).
      We hope to make more info available before too long.

      • George Darroch

        Good to hear, hope it goes well.

  • Kevfromspace

    Don’t forget that the Germans announced this year that are converting a disused coal mine into a pumped-hydro storage reservoir.

  • Wendy Farmer

    Great news for the Latrobe Valley, Bendigo & Ballarat as communities push to be part of the new energies, Voices of the Valley in Latrobe Valley looks forward to working with the State Government on the successful outcomes from the renewable energy hubs. Over the past months we have seen several large companies interested in the Latrobe Valley for Harvesting, Storage & the skills that the people of Latrobe Valley have.

  • Peter F

    The key issue is the water table height in old mines. If it is only 20m below ground level you can’t store much energy. However there are other sites around Bendigo and Ballarat where small pumped hydro schemes could be implemented

    • Chris

      Peter – Bendigo has 7 separate historic gold workings some up to and over 1,000 metres deep. In all there used to be some 5,000 shafts under Bendigo and many will still remain with most capped. Some workings are now linked so there are 5 separate unconnected workings. At present the 3 connected ones are pumped down to 260 metres below ground level to enable the operation of the Central Deborah Tourist Mine and to prevent free discharge to the urban environment. About 2 ML of water per day must be pumped out from under Bendigo, treated and disposed off to protect the Bendigo urban environs. The other 4 workings are filled with groundwater either to surface level or to about 30 metres below surface level.
      Thus there is a good head difference between adjacent and nearby workings (often only a few hundred metres apart) and by pumping down some of the other workings more head differences can be created providing more opportunity for power generation and energy storage. A series of paired pumps / generators would be required.

      • Peter F

        Yes but depending on the rate of ingress of groundwater, the pumping down may require more energy thus reducing the overall system efficiency even further

        • Chris

          Yes that will be part of the assessment. Due to the likely “up and over and down” layout of pipework etc the round trip efficiency of these systems will be lower than a basic pumped hydro setup of two large surface water storages at different levels. But the benefit of our Bendigo mine system for use is that – well it is right here under Bendigo with potential for many hundreds of metres in head difference AND a plentiful supply of free water.

  • lin

    Has anyone studied how many of the existing hydro generators in Vic can be upgraded to add pumped hydro? It would seem that using existing generators and dams would be cheaper than building new facilities, at least as a starting point.

  • Ian

    The best way to store water in the southern alps in winter is snow, lots of it, especially on the highest steepest peaks, this could be inspected on a daily basis by interested members of the public. Suitable chairlift conveyancing and accommodation will be required. The pumped storage equipment will require snow making machines. Spring runoff can be converted back into electricity and fed into the grid.

  • Chris

    This project has great potential and it is unfortunate that the Bendigo Sustainability Group (BSG) was not mentioned in the initial media release. Volunteers from the BSG came up with this idea and have contributed a huge amount of time over the past 18 months gathering information, producing models, engaging with stakeholders and then recently taking this project to Council and State Government for funding for a feasibility study. This project has very much come from and has been led by the Community. It is part of the BSG’s vision to RePower Bendigo with 100% renewable energy – renewable energy that can be provided 24/7. We look forward to the outcomes of the feasibility study.

  • Chris

    Also I am not sure where the number listed within the media release came from but the system potentially has the capacity to store many hundreds of MWh of energy with an instantaneous generation ability of tens of MW with enough shaft pairs.