Australia reveals pumped hydro storage bonanza

Some 22,000 potential energy storage sites have been identified in a new study, with a capacity of 67,000GWh.

A study by the Australian National University has identified 22,000 potential pumped hydro sites across Australia, according to Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which sponsored the research. 

Each of the identified sites has a storage potential of between 1GWh to 300GWh, offering a combined total energy storage capacity of approximately 67,000GWh. Most of the sites are off-river, with more than 12,000 identified in Victoria and New South Wales, the two states with “the most suitable potential upper reservoirs”.

Pumped hydro, with a typical lifetime of 50 years, is currently the lowest-cost large-scale energy storage technology, according to ANU lead researcher professor Andrew Blakers. 

The study also projects that the country will need about 450GWh of storage to support a 100 percent renewable electricity system, he added. “Only the best 0.1 percent would need to be developed,” he said, given so many good potential sites were identified. 

The study was the first step to exploring the potential for pumped hydro energy storage, as part of ARENA’s focus on flexible capacity to ensure a smooth transition to a renewable energy future, said Ivor Frischknecht, chief executive of ARENA.

“Pumped hydro is the most common and most mature form of energy storage. We are exploring the potential for pumped hydro to play a greater role in delivering Australia’s electricity needs. The findings of this study prove there are opportunities across Australia worthy of further investigation,” said Frischknecht, adding that a publicly available cost model of pumped hydro is also under development. 

In addition to the study, the state-run renewables agency is also backing detailed feasibility studies into expanding Snowy Hydro, a 4,100MW hydro-electric power utility, and into potential pumped hydro projects in the Spencer Gulf in South Australia, in Kidston in Queensland and in Tasmania.