Pumped Storage Hydropower - building the renewable energy future

22 February 2021

One of the challenges with renewable energy technology is how to store energy that is produced intermittently. An answer to this is pumped storage hydropower (PSH).

However to get the technology online, there are a range of challenges, including finding locations which are ecologically and commercially viable, working through government process and legislation, and integrating systems with population centres.

In February 2021, a virtual conference was hosted by the Australian National University, working in conjunction with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Australian Water Partnership. The conference brought researchers, engineers, government officials and the business community together in a series of workshops and online seminars. They discussed how we could use this technology to support the rollout of renewable energy in the Asia-Pacific region and ultimately create a healthier planet.  

“As we move to a higher reliance on solar and wind, pumped storage is critical to store extra electricity and use it at peak times, and to support the rollout of this technology,” Professor Jamie Pittock from the Fenner School of Environment & Society at the ANU said.

“In this online conference, we were able to not only share knowledge, but to create momentum and guidance, pushing toward tangible change in this exciting industry.”

The ANU itself is pushing ahead with a project that allows governments and industry to find the best locations to build PSH – the Global Pumped Hydro Atlas.

“By far the largest and most technically mature form of electricity storage is PSH,” Associate Professor Mathew Stocks from the ANU Research School of Engineering said.

“The challenge with pumped hydro however is that the locations to place a system are not always obvious.”

He says the primary goal of the project is to help enable transition to new energy network in areas where it makes economic and engineering sense. The Atlas allows users to zoom in to different sites on 3D digital map in particular regions to make an assessment.

Independent Hydropower consultant Helen Locher says the most exciting PSH projects from an environmental and social perspective are ones that solve multiple problems.

“They’re not just increasing penetration of renewables and stabilizing the grid. They are rehabilitating old degraded sites, allowing life extension of existing sites, and introducing more modern environmental and social mitigation measures,” she said.

The private sector was represented in the conference as well. Simon Kidston from Genex Power spoke about his company’s Kidston Pumped Hydro Project, which repurposes a ‘brown field’ site (an old goldmine) as a location for a new storage and energy generation hub.

Kidston says that understanding the international developments and trends that they are seeing in the Asia-Pacific region was a key part of the conference.

“We see a rapid growth of renewables into the future and the retirement of big coal-fire powerstations, with that capacity being replaced by intermittent solar and wind. There’s a big focus to make that energy reliable through storage, and batteries and pumped hydro are the key to the decarbonisation of the economy.”