ANU to map pumped hydro storage potential to back wind and solar | RenewEconomy

ANU to map pumped hydro storage potential to back wind and solar

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ARENA-backed ANU study to map Australia’s potential for pumped hydro energy storage – a cheap and proven way to integrate large-scale renewables.

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A new study backed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency will map Australia’s potential for pumped hydro energy storage, in an effort to use one of the world’s oldest sources of renewable energy to accommodate more and more “new” energy technologies, like solar and wind.

ARENA said on Wednesday it would provide $449,000 of funding for the Australian National University (ANU) to map potential short-term off-river pumped hydro energy storage (STORES) sites around Australia.


Frischknecht says the ANU study will help identify suitable locations for more pumped hydro, while establishing just how cheap, efficient and effective it can be in providing large-scale, reliable, clean energy storage that can feed into the grid on demand.

The Atlas of Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Study will see ANU partner with ElectraNet and VTara Energy Group to develop a blueprint and cost model to integrate the technology into the electricity grid on national, state and regional levels.

Professor Andrew Blakers from ANU said the low cost and technical maturity of STORES could allow solar photovoltaic and wind energy to reliably reach penetration levels above 50 per cent and push towards 100 per cent renewables.

“Water is constantly flowing between the reservoirs to balance supply and demand, and STORES has the potential to support grid stability through inertial spinning reserve and very fast ramp rates from zero to 100 per cent in minutes,” Professor Blakers said.

As distinct from large-scale, on-river hydro, pumped hydro uses two reservoirs, separated by an altitude difference of between 300 – 900 metres and joined by pipe. Water is circulated between the upper and lower reservoirs in a closed loop to store and generate power.

Currently there are only three large-scale pumped hydro facilities in Australia to date, in Queensland and New South Wales, that have been operating for more than 30 years: Shoalhaven (240 MW), Wivenhoe (500 MW), and Tumut 3 (600 MW).

But according to ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht, there are “potentially hundreds of smaller, environmentally suitable, off-river STORES scale sites” waiting to be developed around the country.

One such site has already been identified by Sydney start-up Genex Power, at a disused open pit gold mine in Queensland.

The company, also with support from ARENA, is currently looking at the feasibility of using two former mine pits for a huge pumped hydro power station, that would be used to store the power from a 200MW solar farm. The result would be Australia’s biggest renewables-based energy storage project.

According to Blakers, a possible STORES site has already been identified in South Australia, with an altitude difference of up to 600 metres in the hills to the east of Spencers Gulf.

“This site could support the development of solar and wind resources in the area,” Blakers said on Wednesday.

Chairman and CEO of VTara Energy Group Dr Clive Stephens said energy storage was increasing in importance as renewable energy penetration increases.

“Pumped hydro is the cheapest form of large scale storage. Off-river pumped hydro can support the electricity network and can be co-located with wind and solar for added benefits,” Dr Stephens said.

The study, which is due to finish in June 2018, will provide regular progress reports.

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  1. john 4 years ago

    I would feel that there has to be sites along the Great Dividing Range because of the huge distance it covers however in the tropics the cloud cover would present solar problems but not perhaps wind the Emerald Wind farm comes to mind in this respect.
    There is already a redundant dam very adjacent to the wind farm footprint, plus for most of the year the area is in a low rain fall area not like the coastal side of the range in that area it being basically behind the highest part of the GDR in Queensland.

    • Gordon 4 years ago

      I looked into this a few years ago for the area near Tamworth, and there are quite a few potential sites with head differences of 400-800m within 10 or 20km of each other. In some cases, the lower reservoir already exists- for example Chaffey Dam and Split Rock Dam, both just on the west side of the GDR at low altitude.

      • john 4 years ago

        OK that is what i was saying there has to be places where there is an adjacent area elevated that would be usable perhaps over 300 meters which i am sure can be used

        • Graeme Harrison 4 years ago

          I am writing this comment from my farm at Goodmans Ford on the banks of the Wollondilly River. My farm is only 114kw SW (as crow flies) from centre of Sydney. The river is the main feed to Sydney’s main water storage, Warragamba Dam. The river is at 220m elevation, and the peaks around are up to 890m. The last 100km of this river upstream of the dam has elevated/flatish highlands on either side, typically within 0.5-1km of the river centre. Ditto for the last 100km of the Shoalhaven river upstream of the Tallowa Dam 50km West of Nowra. Ditto all of the Coxes, Grose & Colo Rivers. I think I could nominate 100+ locations for pumped-storage within 150km of Sydney, or more precisely 150km North or South of Katoomba (just to pick a spot on the GDR level with Sydney, as all the locations are within the GDR.

      • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

        10 to 20 km is a long way (cost prohibitive) for the scale of pipes you need to maintain the energy potential. you can’t run it through drinking straws and expect to turn a turbine.

        • Gordon 4 years ago

          Indeed they have to be large, probably 1-4m diameter depending on the size of the turbine and length of pipe, but they managed to build pipes of similar length for the Snowy Mountains HES.

  2. Eb 4 years ago

    I hope the study includes estimates of water losses from evaporation which may affect the economics of some projects.

    • Mark Diesendorf 4 years ago

      Evaporation can be reduced by means of floating solar collectors on the reservoirs.

    • John Saint-Smith 4 years ago

      If there is an existing storage, like Wivenhoe, for example, additional evaporation losses would be quite modest. I think this survey will reveal a large number of potential perched reservoirs near existing water supply dams in Australia.

      When considering the cost of these ‘STORES’, their benefits in stabilizing the intermittent renewable energy in the grid would be immense.

      Remember, the three STORES that have been operating successfully for decades, were financially viable alternatives to building more thermal generator sets to cover peak loads long before anyone ever considered the possibility that burning coal might become a liability that we could no longer afford.

    • john 4 years ago

      You do of course know that is not exactly a sensible comment.
      Of course they take into consideration evaporation and cost to pump and losses on that plus resistance on the water being sent down to the regeneration units.
      We are not dealing with simple here we are dealing with very intelligent engineers who actually understand energy inputs and outputs otherwise they would not get the job.
      Any other spurious questions you wish to ask?

    • Ren Stimpy 4 years ago

      What about putting a tall roof over the lower dam so that the evaporation condenses on it and flows into the upper dam?

      Or for that matter what about using heliostats to actively convert water in the lower dam to steam which then goes up a tall funnel to condense and flow into the upper dam?

      Of course I must now insist on quarterly royalty cheques if either of those ideas ever come to fruition.

      • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

        there’s a guy in WA who’s been working on a water “ladder” for decades I think, saw on 60 minutes or something many years ago. uses a sawtooth profile base and evaporation takes the water to the clear lid above the base where it condensates and slides down (but further along) the ladder then drops to a higher step. (If that makes sense!).

        Also has been working on devices to condensate moisture for reasonably dry air to fill dams. Miracle man or quack I’m not the engineer to judge.

        • Graeme Harrison 4 years ago

          The high amount of energy to get phase change (water-to-steam) and ‘waste’ of that energy when condensation occurs means that (despite using solar energy), the condensation ladder is an inherently inefficient way to pump water uphill. Photovoltaic panels running a mechanical water pump is more efficient, and arguably much cheaper in capital and maintenance costs.

          The best use of a sloping condensation panel is the 1m x 1m device for producing drinking water in less-developed countries. The user pours a few litres of dirty water in the top, while rolls slowly down black painted corrugated-iron sheet in sealed box. The sloped top clear sheet of plastic (just above the black-metal sheet) collects the condensate and drips it into a separate receptacle at base, producing enough distilled water for a family’s daily drinking needs.

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      evaporation isn’t even an issue in Europe where they use old decommissioned mines for the lower pond. but it only has marginal effect on the business case because the the sell price into peak market is many multiples of the buy price. Sometimes the buy price will go negative in a grid saturated with ubiquitous generation behind the meter. Most other times it will be low, only occasionally wholesale price will peak and that’s fairly predictable in terms of pumping water up to meet it without leaving the water there for months on end to evaporate.

  3. Geremida 4 years ago

    Nice article Sophie, but a correction for Genex pumped hydro…..Their latest investor preso says “Pumping Mode
    § During overnight Off-Peak
    § Wholesale prices at their lowest
    § Power is drawn from the grid to
    pump water up to the upper
    reservoir ” – p 16 –
    Maybe that may change in the future???
    I’d made the same assumption until I read what they are actually proposing.

  4. Malcolm M 4 years ago

    Some of the previous studies used algorithms to pick sites close to existing water bodies. But none picked up some quite obvious sites that already have much of the necessary infrastructure, and would require minimal environmental approval processes:

    1. Eildon Dam. There is already a 150 MW hydro power station that is used only in the summer irrigation release season. It has a lower pool with sufficient storage for about 7 hours of full power production. While the 40 m head is less than desirable, a pump would allow this capacity to be used as a peaking station outside the irrigation release season, while also soaking up wind power when spot prices are negative.

    2. Sugarloaf Reservoir is operated by Melbourne Water as an off-river storage for urban supply. Water is pumped about 100 m up from the Yarra. A small lower pool on the Yarra would allow this existing reservoir to be used as pumped storage. The reservoir is less than 1 km from the Yarra, and the full head is achievable within a linear distance of 250 m, which should lead to a high “round trip” efficiency and relatively low capital costs, because tunnelling would not be required.

    3. Just east of the Thompson Dam operated by Melbourne Water, there is a cleared flat area 4 ha in size suitable for an upper pool, which is 352 m higher than the pool just below the dam and only 1500 linear m away. An additional small dam across the Thompson River to enlarge the lower pool would lead to an excellent site.

    • lin 4 years ago

      Additional sites may include Dartmouth (dam wall height 180 metres), Blowering (114 metres), Barrinjuck (93 metres), all of which already have generation capacity and are connected to the grid. It should be a relatively cheap option to add pumps.

      • Andy Saunders 4 years ago

        Lacking in lower-pool capacity?

        • lin 4 years ago

          nope, Dartmouth has a big holding pond below the dam to smooth out releases. Might need a higher level wall put in so that it can work at low reservoir capacity though.

          • Andy Saunders 4 years ago

            Burrinjuck certainly hasn’t got a lower pool. Blowering and Dartmouth hasn’t much of one, at least of any great use for pumped storage.

            And it all ignores that these are irrigation dams, not sure I see the water authorities allowing regulation of water flows that detracts from irrigation… (I know, but that’s reality)

          • lin 4 years ago

            Can’t see pumping water up and down having much impact on the availability of irrigation water, particularly from the dart, as it feeds into the hume anyway, and irrigation releases are controlled primarily from there. The snowy scheme seems to manage OK with the dual function, although there are allegations that some smart operators ran the big storages out of water to generate electricity profits, not anticipating the worst drought on record, meaning water entitlements were not available to those who paid for them.

  5. Ian 4 years ago

    For general daily cycling purposes pumped hydro is not so viable all it does is add a cost to the various generation sources. One would have to look at its other uses to measure its viability. An example would be standby power supply, or as part of an integrated wind, solar and dedicated mine supply system providing reliability.

    • MaxG 4 years ago

      Instead of expensive gas burner; supply peak demand…

      • Ian 4 years ago

        The LCOE for the various generation resources is very similar across the board from solar through to coal. The problem in SA is not the cost of generating electricity from gas but the cost of buying gas generated electricity. The incumbents have taken advantage of market rules to rort the system. (At least that is how I understand reneweconomy articles on this subject.)

        Pumped hydro is actually not that economical at load shifting from time of power generation to time of power usage, simply because it involves these costs: 1. the cost of primary power production be it solar, wind, coal or gas plus
        2. The cost of storage( including losses of pumping and generation, the capital and maintenance costs of the facility)
        3. The costs of transmission through the grid

        Perhaps , Max, you can give some numbers and calculations to back up your statement, to show that the production cost of gas generated electricity is more expensive than say wind generated electricity plus pumped hydro.

        I don’t mean to be too rude but renewable energy needs honest appraisal rather than just cheer leading

        • MaxG 4 years ago

          Sorry, didn’t mean to ‘cheer lead’; I should have said more precisely: to avoid the cost of buying gas generated electricity (when the gas burners rort the system).

        • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

          1. what about when they are paying you to take excess supply from the grid?
          2. if you are selling into a peak market at 2000x what you paid for the energy LCOE is not the metric you’d be using to do opportunity cost calculations
          3. trivial at best given that other generation will be at low capacity and there’s more than enough space on the grid. transmission is a small component of retail energy bills at any rate.

          I don’t mean to be rude either but there are papers on these things for you to read.

          Presently northern European nations like Denmark, UK, Germany and others are all increasing their transmission capacities to Norway for access to more pumped hydro not less. Russian gas supply and fracking can’t be so enticing?

          • Ian 4 years ago

            Alastair, what is good for the goose should be good for the gander, distributed battery storage should be able to take advantage of 1 and 2.

            3. As you say, transmission is a small component, then why not ensure that geographically widely spread primary renewable generation resources are linked with cheap transmission “highways” . In the case of South Australia And Victoria there is potential to up-grade the Bass Link and upgrade Tasmania’s primary hydrogeneration. That is to take advantage of the peaking function of this once-through hydro asset. There is no need for Tasmania to generate electricity 24/7 using hydro. They could generate 4 times as much for a 1/4 of the time . No new dams would need to be built, no pumped storage just up grading the generating equipment and the Bass-Link. They could take advantage of that tremendous 2000x peak market you are talking about.

            Anyway, not knocking pumped hydro, just saying that there is a number contenders for the peaking plant function and I was concerned that pumped hydro might not have been the cheapest

          • Graeme Harrison 4 years ago

            Ian, you claim the problem with pumped-storage is that these may become ‘stranded assets’, really? I think you will find that coal mines and coal-fired power stations are the assets that will become stranded assets. Sure, the more storage we install, the less ‘peaky’ the wholesale electricity price becomes at peak time. But that is the type of change that we should welcome. The Shoalhaven & Tumut pumped-storage facilities are many many decades old, based on even-older concrete dams. These things will have extremely long lives. It is batteries that currently have lifetime restrictions. Hopefully if any one of the new battery technologies really takes off, we will suddenly get batteries with real-world lives that are decades long. Then battery storage will play a more important role in grid-level storage. At present, battery life means that batteries are limited to remote & household-level storage.

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      much better isn’t a term engineers tend to use comparing storage or generation technologies. you’re going to have to be more specific than that. currently even with transmission and network costs PHES is coming in well under chemical batteries, and it serves the entire grid not just middle class to well off houses and businesses. but chemical batteries are on a steep learnings curve so who knows when they pass PHES.

      Like MaxG says, replaces peakers, wont supply a week of power generation in winter though…

  6. Tim Forcey 4 years ago
  7. David Boxall 4 years ago

    Most of Australia’s population is near the coast. Sea cliffs seem obvious opportunities.

  8. Tim Forcey 4 years ago
  9. Alastair Leith 4 years ago

    Hasn’t Melbourne Energy Institute already done this work? Patrick Hearps (BZE lead author of Stationary Energy Plan was doing some of it for a while).

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