Pumped storage hydropower (PSH) projects across five Australian states could more than triple the nation’s electricity storage capacity.
That’s the verdict of a study by researchers at the Australian National University (ANU). According to lead researcher Professor Jamie Pittock, PSH would greatly speed up Australia’s transition to a renewable energy future.
The study, published in Australian Environment Review, says 20 large PSH plants would be enough to back up the entire national grid. In fact, the national grid would be almost entirely dependent on renewable energy if PSH projects go ahead, Pittock claims.
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Pumped storage hydropower ‘gamechanger’ for wind, solar
PSH works by connecting two reservoirs at different relative heights.
Solar and wind farms create excess electricity on extra sunny or windy days. This power then pumps water into the upper reservoir.
The water is then released during times of peak demand. As it flows back to the lower reservoir it drives turbines which ‘unlock’ the gravitational potential energy and turn it back into electricity.
Pittock calls PSH a “gamechanger”. His research shows stored wind and solar power could provide reliable baseload energy to keep the lights on in eastern Australia.
Challenges of finding suitable PSH sites in Australia
There are challenges in finding the right site for pumped storage hydropower. Environmental and logistical problems rule out many locations.
However, the study is now assessing a number of sites which would be “more than enough” to back up the grid, according to Pittock.
The old gold mining tunnels under the Victorian town of Bendigo could be put to effective use. Pumps could suck contaminated water to the surface. it would then be fed back down mine shafts.
One South Australian site would use sea water to generate power. Another in SA would buy water entitlements out of the Murray Darling Basin system.
Energy storage key to Australia’s renewable future
Meanwhile, large pumped hydro-electricity projects are already being developed in NSW and Tasmania.
Snowy 2.0 will connect the Talbingo and Tantangara reservoirs in the NSW Snowy Mountains using a 27 km tunnel. The project aims to store 175 hours’ worth of power.
Hydro Tasmania could become the ‘Battery of the Nation’. This project will pump hydro across 14 possible sites at a lower cost than Snowy 2.0. However, it will hold between 8 and 36 hours of power storage.
The cost of storage batteries is also falling rapidly. Bloomberg New Energy Finance says prices will fall by more than 50 per cent by 2030.