ANU finds 22,000 potential pumped hydro sites in Australia

The Australian National University (ANU) has completed an audit of 22,000 potential sites across Australia for pumped hydro energy storage, which can be used to support a secure and cheap national electricity grid with 100 per cent renewable energy.

The zero-emissions grid would mainly rely on wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, with support from pumped hydro storage, and would eliminate Australia’s need for coal and gas-fired power.

Lead researcher Professor Andrew Blakers, of the ANU Research School of Engineering, said the short-term off-river pumped hydro energy storage (STORES) sites combined had a potential storage capacity of 67,000GWh.

“Australia needs only a tiny fraction of these sites for pumped hydro storage – about 450 GWh of storage – to support a 100 per cent renewable electricity system,” Professor Blakers said.

“Fast tracking the development of a few of the best sites by 2022 could balance the grid when Liddell and other coal power stations close.

“Pumped hydro storage, including Snowy 2.0, can be developed fast enough to balance the grid with any quantity of variable wind and solar PV power generation, including 100 per cent renewable energy.

“We found so many good potential sites that only the best 0.1 per cent will be needed. We can afford to be choosy.”

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) provided $449,000 to support the ANU-led study.

“Investing in renewable storage technologies, such as pumped hydro and batteries, will play a key role into securing an affordable and reliable energy network in Australia,” Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg said.

“The Turnbull Government is already supporting a major expansion of the Snowy Hydro scheme and looking at further hydro-electricity and pumped storage opportunities in Tasmania, the Upper Spencer Gulf in South Australia and Kidston in Queensland.

“As the Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel noted in his review of the National Electricity Market, pumped hydro storage systems are the most mature electrical energy storage systems available.”

STORES sites require pairs of reservoirs at different altitudes, typically ranging from 10 hectares to 100 hectares, in hilly terrain and joined by a pipe with a pump and turbine.

Water is pumped uphill when wind and solar energy is plentiful, and electricity is available on demand by releasing the stored water through a turbine.

Co-researcher Dr Matthew Stocks said off-river pumped hydro storage typically delivered maximum power for five to 25 hours, depending on the size of the reservoirs.

“Like all hydro power, it can go from zero to full power in about one minute,” Dr Stocks said.

“Annual water requirements would be much less than half that of the current fossil fuel system because wind and PV do not require cooling water.”