Pumped hydro as ‘ultimate’ storage solution for Australia’s energy transition


From pv magazine Australia

With the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) forecasting at least 45GW/620GWh of energy storage will be needed to cater for the transition of the nation’s energy system from fossil fuels to renewables, former prime minister Malcom Turnbull has pointed to pumped hydro energy storage projects, including the $4.6 billion Snowy 2.0 project, as the ideal technology.

Speaking at the Australian Energy and Battery Storage conference in Sydney on Wednesday Turnbull said energy storage, and in particular Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES), is the single most important element in Australia’s ongoing energy transition.

“The transition will require not simply green power to replace coal, but vastly more supplies of electricity to cater for the electrification of sectors, like transportation, household heating which rely on fossil fuels as well as the production of green hydrogen,” he said.

“We need more storage and above all we need projects which provide at least eight hours storage and more and are in a form that can be widely emulated.”

This need for energy storage is predominantly driven by the urgency to replace aging coal units with AEMO’s modeling showing that up to 14GW of the current 23GW of coal-fired generation could exit the market by 2030.

In its Draft Integrated System Plan (ISP) released late last year AEMO highlights that 60% of coal capacity would come out of the Australian system in the next eight years.

Malcolm Turnbull says energy storage shapes as the single most important element in Australia’s energy transition.Image: APH

In its Draft Optimal Development Path, AEMO says nine times today’s utility-scale renewable energy would be needed to continue delivering affordable, reliable and secure power to consumers.

To firm that renewable generation, major investment in storage is required, with 45GW/620 GWh of dispatchable generation, including utility-scale batteries, hydro and other forms of energy storage needed. These will play the critical role of filling the gaps when renewable energy is not available.

“We need much more storage,” Turnbull said on Wednesday. “AEMO suggests at least another 45GW and for all the obvious reasons of security and grid stability it should be distributed and ideally located close to existing transmission.

“Even more importantly it should be, wherever possible, in a format that is repeatable.

“Obviously pumped storage is not replicable in the way a battery is, but the raw truth is that about 95% of the world’s stored electricity is in pumped hydro systems.”

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Turnbull pointed to the $4.6 billion expansion of the existing 4.1GW Snowy Mountain Scheme as a prime example of a long-duration energy storage solution.

The Snowy 2.0 project, which involves linking the Tantangara and Talbingo dams via 27 kilometers of tunnels, will provide 2GW of dispatchable energy and provide 350GWh of large-scale storage, enough to power the equivalent of 500,000 homes for over a week during peak demand.

“Snowy 2.0 is the ultimate long-duration storage asset,” he said. “It will be able to generate 2000MW for seven-and-a-half days without repumping. Which is enormously valuable.”

Work on the Snowy 2.0 project is continuing with the first power generation expected in 2025.Image: Snowy Hydro

Turnbull, who is now serving as chair of Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Future Industries (FFI), said pumped hydro energy storage projects are ideally suited to provide longer-duration forms of energy storage, with the economics for battery projects of that scale not yet competitive.

“It’s easy to see a business case for a battery that can discharge for an hour or two or three or four,” he said. “FCAS (Frequency Control Ancillary Services) revenues, basic arbitrage all stack up. But storage for eight or more and more hours is harder to justify, at least in today’s market. But if we want to keep the lights on all the time, we will need it.

“We have to plan for a world where we have stopped burning coal and gas and when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. We won’t have any electricity unless we have stored it in some way.”

Turnbull said the technology already exists to support the transition to a net-zero economy, dismissing the Federal Government’s continued support for coal and gas as “as irresponsible as it is surreal”.

“There is a lot of lazy, glib talk about how the transition to net zero requires new technologies, innovations yet to spring from the imagination of a new generation of inventors,” he said.

“Don’t believe a word of it. We have the tools to do this job, right now. Variable renewable energy – wind and solar – supported by storage – batteries, pumped storage and green hydrogen – can take us to a zero-emission energy world.

“Of course new technologies, and refinements to existing ones, will emerge – whether it is bigger and better batteries and electrolysers, smarter turbines, or the creation of virtual power plants to name just a few.

“That’s great. But it is no excuse for not moving fast today. We have no time to waste.”

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