Pumped hydro storage could breathe new life into old mines 

The Copperfield Dam - which supplies water to the mine site, image courtesy Genex
The Copperfield Dam - which supplies water to the mine site, image courtesy Genex

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is providing $4 million support for an ongoing feasibility study into the construction of a 330MW pumped storage hydroelectric power plant at the disused Kidston Gold Mine in North Queensland.

The feasibility study will explore the technical and commercial viability of the proposed power plant, which is estimated to cost around $282 million and is being developed by Genex Power Limited (Genex).

Acting ARENA chief executive officer Ian Kay said the work could reinvigorate the pumped hydro storage industry in Australia and enable more renewable energy to be used on national grids.

“This feasibility study aims to pave the way for the first new pumped hydro storage development in Australia in more than 40 years,” Mr Kay said.

“Energy storage is becoming increasingly important as more renewables are connected to the Australia’s electricity grids. Pumped hydro storage can provide a cost-effective alternative to large-scale battery storage and concentrating solar thermal storage.

“The proposed plant would take advantage of the Kidston mine’s unique characteristics and the existing infrastructure at the site, minimising its environmental footprint. The novel approach will use the former mining pits as upper and lower water storage reservoirs.

“If the case for pumped hydro storage at disused mine sites is proved, it could give abandoned mines across Australia a new lease on life. Genex has already identified nine sites with similar characteristics to Kidston that could be potential future candidates.”

The proposed plant will operate on an off-peak pumping, peak generation cycle, storing excess electricity during periods of low demand and high generation.

Genex is also exploring the use of variable speed turbines, which can effectively manage grid stability in areas with grid constraints or high levels of renewable energy generation.

Mr Kay said the ARENA-supported feasibility work would generate useful knowledge for the solar and wind renewables industries.

“The project will identify the technical, financial and regulatory roadblocks to the further development of pumped hydro and large-scale storage in Australia, along with any risks involved with using disused or abandoned mine sites for energy storage,” Mr Kay said.

The results of the feasibility study are due in October 2016.

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