24 Nov 2015: Report

For Storing Electricity, Utilities
Are Turning to Pumped Hydro

High-tech batteries may be garnering the headlines. But utilities from Spain to China are increasingly relying on pumped storage hydroelectricity – first used in the 1890s – to overcome the intermittent nature of wind and solar power.

by john roach

In the past decade, wind energy production has soared in Spain, rising from 6 percent of the country’s electricity generation in 2004 to about 20 percent today. While that is certainly good news for boosters of clean energy, the surge in renewables has come with the challenge of ensuring that electric power is available
Iberdrola
Spain’s Cortes-La Muela project, which uses pumped hydro storage to produce electricity.
when customers want it, not just when the wind blows.

To help accommodate the increased supply of wind, Spain's utilities have turned not to high-tech, 21st-century batteries, but rather to a time-tested 19th-century technology — pumped storage hydroelectricity. Pumped storage facilities are typically equipped with pumps and generators that move water between upper and lower reservoirs. A basic setup uses excess electricity — generated, say, from wind turbines during a blustery night — to pump water from a lower reservoir, such as behind a dam, to a reservoir at a higher elevation. Then, when the wind ceases to blow or electricity demand spikes, the water from on high is released to spin hydroelectric turbines.

That’s precisely what the giant Spanish utility Iberdrola has done with the expansion to its $1.3 billion Cortes-La Muela hydroelectric scheme, completed in 2013. The company uses surplus electricity to pump water from the Júcar River to a large reservoir on a bluff 1,700 feet above the river. When demand rises, the water is released to generate electricity. The 1,762-megawatt pumped storage generating capacity is Europe's largest and is part of a hydroelectric complex capable of powering about 500,000 homes a year.

While much of the buzz around energy storage today centers on the development of innovative battery technologies, more than 98 percent of
Pumped storage hydropower is still the only method that is mature, reliable, and commercially available.’
installed storage capacity globally is, in fact, pumped hydro, according to Vladimir Koritarov, an energy systems engineer at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. And today, fueled by the world's embrace of solar and wind power to help combat global warming, pumped storage hydro is in the midst of a surge, with power generators and utilities building new facilities from Italy to China as a way of balancing supply and demand across electric power grids.

"Among all energy storage technologies," Koritarov notes, "pumped storage hydropower is still the only one that is mature, reliable, proven, and commercially available to provide large utility-scale energy storage."

Currently, 292 pumped storage hydro facilities are in operation worldwide, with a total capacity of 142 gigawatts. Another 46 projects, with a total capacity of 34 gigawatts, are being developed, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Global Energy Storage Database.

Chemical batteries are typically installed at the electricity distribution level, where in addition to storage they provide other services, such as closing the gap between supply and demand in increments measured in milliseconds, notes Ruud Kempener, an analyst with the International Renewable Energy Agency in Bonn, Germany. The capacity of batteries is typically in the single to tens of megawatts.

In contrast, the capacity of pumped storage hydro systems ranges from the hundreds to thousands of megawatts, providing flexibility to the electric system as a whole, a role that Kempener says will increase in importance in the future. He was lead author of a recent report that found pumped storage hydro would need to increase to 325 gigawatts by 2030 from about 150 gigawatts today in order to double the share of renewable energy in the global mix.

Recent energy policy reforms in Spain have halted the hyper growth of renewables there. Still, several new pumped storage projects have recently come online in Spain, with more being developed in Germany, Austria, and Italy. In Italy, Swiss utility Repower is gaining approvals for its planned 572-megawatt Campolattaro pumped storage plant about 55 miles northeast of Naples, which would pump water from a dammed lake to a
Pumped storage hydro is growing fastest in China, with 10 or 15 projects under construction.
newly constructed reservoir in nearby hills.

Pumped storage hydro is growing fastest in China, according to Chi-Jen Yang, a research scientist at the Center on Global Change at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. "A new pumped hydro station comes online every several months," he says, adding that "there are 10 or 15 under construction right now and each one is really huge, like 1 gigawatt or bigger."

China's 22 gigawatts of installed pumped storage hydro capacity recently surpassed the United States' 21 gigawatts and will overtake world leader Japan's 27 gigawatts in 2018, according to Yang. The 3.6-gigawatt Fengning Pumped Storage Power Station under construction in Hebei Province will be the world's largest when it comes online around 2022.

In the United States, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued licenses for two projects in 2014, both in California. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District's $800 million, 400-megawatt Iowa Hill Pumped-Storage Project involves construction of a reservoir 1,200 feet above Slab Creek Reservoir, along with an underground powerhouse and tunnels to connect the water bodies. Eagle Crest Energy Company's $1.4 billion 1,300-megawatt Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Project involves construction of upper and lower reservoirs at an old iron mine near Joshua Tree National Park.

Several dozen other U.S. projects are in the early planning and preliminary study stages. These include the $2.5 billion, 1,200-megawatt JD Pool Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project in Washington State, which would site a pair of upper reservoirs between strings of wind turbines on the Columbia Plateau and a lower reservoir, located 2,400 feet down the wall of the Columbia River Gorge at an abandoned aluminum smelter near the John Day Dam. Planners envision close coordination among Columbia River dams, large arrays of wind turbines, and the proposed pumped storage facilities, which would hold water in reserve during steady winds and unleash it during calm periods.

Pumped storage hydro was first used in the 1890s in the Swiss, Austrian, and Italian Alps to provide greater flexibility for the management of water resources. The technology was widely adopted in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s to provide load shifting, which transfers electric generation from peak hours to off-peak hours of the day, according to Koritarov. The technique allows utilities to continually operate large, inflexible assets such as nuclear and coal-fired power plants at their optimal efficiency. Surplus generation from these plants is used to fill storage reservoirs; when demand peaks, the
An added bonus of pumped hydropower storage is the capacity to absorb excess electricity.
water is released to generate additional electricity. When nuclear and coal plants stopped being built, "the pumped storage also quit being built," he says.

Today's growth in pumped storage hydro is strongest where access is limited to inexpensive natural gas-fired “peaker plants,” which are built to run specifically during times of high demand, such as the late afternoon on hot summer days. Peaker plants are also increasingly used to fill the gap when the wind dies or clouds blot the sun, causing a drop in intermittent renewable generation. Pumped storage hydro can perform the same tasks. An added bonus of pumped storage hydro is the capacity to absorb excess electricity, Koritarov says. Wind generation, for example, is typically highest at night, when demand is lowest and the electricity is often unwanted.

Pumped storage hydro requires more energy than it produces, notes Yang, meaning that the technology only makes sense in electric power systems that have surplus generation during certain parts of the day and lulls at others.

The technology is not without environmental costs. Their operation leads to rapid fluctuations in reservoir water levels as the systems switch between pumping water from dam reservoirs to elevated storage reservoirs, and then lowering those upper reservoirs during electricity generation. "You may have an artificial flood for four hours, and then a drought for 20 hours, and then another artificial flood," Peter Bosshard, the interim executive director for International Rivers, an environmental advocacy based in Berkeley, California, says. Such fluctuations wreak havoc on the ecologically rich areas where terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems
Building new pumped storage hydro faces numerous obstacles, especially in the United States.
overlap.

"We are seeing that there are other, more interesting ways of storing electricity coming up on the horizon, in particular battery storage through distributed systems," Bosshard says.

Building new pumped storage hydro faces numerous obstacles, especially in the United States. Public and private sector support for chemical batteries can outweigh interest in pumped hydro. Other challenges include the hundreds of millions of dollars in upfront capital, long construction times, and market structures that give insufficient value to grid flexibility.

These hurdles have hobbled the Klickitat County Public Utility District's effort to construct the JD Pool Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project along the Columbia River. Renewed interest is percolating, however, according to Randy Knowles, a commissioner for the utility district who has promoted the project for more than a decade. HydroChina Corp., a major hydropower construction firm based in Beijing, signed a memorandum of understanding with the county this October to discuss collaborating on the project. "They have an interest in entering the U.S. market, and this is a real attractive project given its size," Knowles says.

Since 2000, 47 wind projects have been developed in Washington and Oregon within about 50 miles of the proposed project site. The turbines have a combined capacity of 4,695 megawatts and generate enough electricity to power about 800,000 homes, according to data from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Power lines carry the electricity wrung from the wind to high-voltage transmission lines that lead away from the John Day Dam.

Most of the time, the dam, and others in the Columbia Basin, work in concert with the wind turbines. When the wind slackens, for example, grid operators send more water through the dams to keep up with demand. When the wind howls, flows through the dams are reduced to save water

ALSO FROM YALE e360

As Small Hydropower Expands,
So Does Caution on Its Impacts

small hydro
Small hydropower projects have the potential to bring electricity to millions of people now living off the grid. But experts warn that planners must carefully consider the cumulative effects of constructing too many small dams in a single watershed.
READ MORE
until it's needed. In a sense, the dams act as a giant battery that compensates for the intermittency of the wind, ensuring a low-carbon means to keep the lights on from Seattle to Los Angeles.

But the capacity of the hydroelectric dams to accommodate wind generation is about maxed out, according to Knowles. In the spring of 2011, for example, the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that operates the dams, ordered many Pacific Northwest wind farms to shut down generation for several hours a day to accommodate water releases (and a resulting surplus of hydroelectric generation) that was legally required to maintain safe passage for migrating fish.

The Klickitat County Public Utility District's proposed 1,200-megawatt project, Knowles says, would reduce the wind sector's reliance on the dams, allow more wind turbines on the Columbia Plateau, and, in the process, help the United States meet long-term emissions reduction targets.

"We are just ahead of the curve, frankly, in recognizing the need," he says. "So at some point everybody will catch up and the project will get built."



POSTED ON 24 Nov 2015 IN Business & Innovation Climate Energy Energy Science & Technology Sustainability Water Europe North America 

COMMENTS


The question will be, how much large-scale storage it takes to sustain a future system of supply sourced mainly by solar and wind power. Further, large-scale storage will always have lower levelized costs than small-scale. The next generation of pumped hydro plant could be hydraulic rock storage plants, using rock instead of water to lift up against gravity. First pilot project is in planning in Europe. By using rock, you don't need elevation any more. The potential areas suitable for large-scale storage will increase dramatically.
Posted by Robert Werner on 24 Nov 2015


This system appears to be simple and without the need for chemical batteries which might only have a short lifetime. I feel that each country, especially Canada which has a lot of rivers, is capable of building small hydroelectric plants which could easily supply hydro to medium-to-large cities at an economical cost. Big business and all sizes of governments don't want this, as they wouldn't have a way of gouging the taxpayer.
Posted by dave hewer on 24 Nov 2015


Excellent article. It is interesting that there was no mention of the possibility of converting existing single-speed pumped storage units to adjustable-speed and also no mention of the fact that Japan has more than a dozen pumped storage units with adjustable speed capability. With the increasing amount of wind and solar generation and the retirement of coal fired units, there is an impact on total system inertia. With reduced total system inertia the process of frequency regulation becomes more of a challenge. With adjustable-speed pumped storage it is possible to provide fast response along with other operating benefits.
Peter Donalek
IEEE Fellow
Posted by Peter Donalek on 07 Dec 2015


Thanks for this story. One qualification: In the third-to-last paragraph, the story told about wind power cutoffs and salmon flows is indeed Bonneville Power's story. That doesn't mean it is true. I urge the author not to take BPA's word, or that of utlities, on salmon issues. Talk to salmon people and fishery agencies.

For those working to restore endangered salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers, the wind cut-offs did not help salmon, and the so-called "legal requirements" that BPA and some of its utilities invoked as part of shutting down wind were debatable at best. I can go into detail if asked.

Hydro stories in the Northwest, including those about pumped storage projects, cannot be written without clear attention to effects on salmon and river health (given the hundreds of dams already in place). The federal dam agencies are not good sources for accurate information on salmon and river health.

Thanks.
Posted by Pat Ford on 12 Dec 2015


POST A COMMENT

Comments are moderated and will be reviewed before they are posted to ensure they are on topic, relevant, and not abusive. They may be edited for length and clarity. By filling out this form, you give Yale Environment 360 permission to publish this comment.

Name 
Email address 
Comment 
 
Please type the text shown in the graphic.


john roachABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Roach is a Seattle-based journalist. He has contributed to National Geographic News since 1998 and spent the past five years covering technology, science, and the environment in blogs, news stories, and features for NBC News Digital. He formerly was on the staff of the Environmental News Network.

 
 

RELATED ARTICLES


Point/Counterpoint: Is It Time for Greens
To Reassess Their Opposition to Ethanol?

The criticism of ethanol by environmentalists is misguided and just plain wrong. In fact, thanks to improvements in farming techniques, increasing the amount of corn ethanol in U.S. gasoline would reduce air pollution, provide significant health benefits, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
READ MORE

The Case Against More Ethanol:
It's Simply Bad for Environment

The revisionist effort to increase the percentage of ethanol blended with U.S. gasoline continues to ignore the major environmental impacts of growing corn for fuel and how it inevitably leads to higher prices for this staple food crop. It remains a bad idea whose time has passed.
READ MORE

After Paris, A Move to Rein In
Emissions by Ships and Planes

As the world moves to slash CO2 emissions, the shipping and aviation sectors have managed to remain on the sidelines. But the pressure is now on these two major polluting industries to start controlling their emissions at last.
READ MORE

As Drought Grips South Africa,
A Conflict Over Water and Coal

Facing one of the worst droughts in memory, South Africa’s leaders have doubled down on their support of the water-intensive coal industry. But clean energy advocates say the smartest move would be to back the country’s burgeoning wind and solar power sectors.
READ MORE

Bringing Energy Upgrades
To the Nation’s Inner Cities

Donnel Baird has launched a startup that aims to revolutionize how small businesses and nonprofits secure funding for energy efficiency and clean energy projects in low-income neighborhoods. In a Yale Environment 360 interview, he talks about how he plans to bring his vision to dozens of U.S. cities.
READ MORE

 

MORE IN Reports


As Drought Grips South Africa,
A Conflict Over Water and Coal

by keith schneider
Facing one of the worst droughts in memory, South Africa’s leaders have doubled down on their support of the water-intensive coal industry. But clean energy advocates say the smartest move would be to back the country’s burgeoning wind and solar power sectors.
READ MORE

Saving Amphibians: The Quest
To Protect Threatened Species

by jim robbins
The decline of the world’s amphibians continues, with causes ranging from fungal diseases to warmer and drier climates. Now, researchers are looking at ways to intervene with triage measures that could help save the most vulnerable populations.
READ MORE

How Rising CO2 Levels May
Contribute to Die-Off of Bees

by lisa palmer
As they investigate the factors behind the decline of bee populations, scientists are now eyeing a new culprit — soaring levels of carbon dioxide, which alter plant physiology and significantly reduce protein in important sources of pollen.
READ MORE

Can Uber-Style Buses Help
Relieve India's Air Pollution?

by jason overdorf
India’s megacities have some the deadliest air and worst traffic congestion in the world. But Indian startups are now launching initiatives that link smart-phone apps and private shuttle buses and could help keep cars and other motorized vehicles off the roads.
READ MORE

Trouble in Paradise: A Blight
Threatens Key Hawaiian Tree

by richard schiffman
The ʻohiʻa is Hawaii’s iconic tree, a keystone species that maintains healthy watersheds and provides habitat for numerous endangered birds. But a virulent fungal disease, possibly related to a warmer, drier climate, is now felling the island’s cherished 'ohi'a forests.
READ MORE

Climate Change Adds Urgency
To Push to Save World’s Seeds

by virginia gewin
In the face of rising temperatures and worsening drought, the world’s repositories of agricultural seeds may hold the key to growing food under increasingly harsh conditions. But keeping these gene banks safe and viable is a complicated and expensive challenge.
READ MORE

As World Warms, How Do We
Decide When a Plant is Native?

by janet marinelli
The fate of a tree planted at poet Emily Dickinson's home raises questions about whether gardeners can — or should — play a role in helping plant species migrate in the face of rising temperatures and swiftly changing botanical zones.
READ MORE

With New Tools, A Focus
On Urban Methane Leaks

by judith lewis mernit
Until recently, little was known about the extent of methane leaking from urban gas distribution pipes and its impact on global warming. But recent advances in detecting this potent greenhouse gas are pushing U.S. states to begin addressing this long-neglected problem.
READ MORE

Is Climate Change Putting
World's Microbiomes at Risk?

by jim robbins
Researchers are only beginning to understand the complexities of the microbes in the earth’s soil and the role they play in fostering healthy ecosystems. Now, climate change is threatening to disrupt these microbes and the key functions they provide.
READ MORE

As Electric Cars Stall, A Move
To Greener Trucks and Buses

by cheryl katz
Low gasoline prices and continuing performance issues have slowed the growth of electric car sales. But that has not stymied progress in electrifying larger vehicles, including garbage trucks, city buses, and medium-sized trucks used by freight giants like FedEx.
READ MORE


e360 digest
Yale
Yale Environment 360 is
a publication of the
Yale School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies
.

SEARCH e360



Donate to Yale Environment 360
Yale Environment 360 Newsletter


CONNECT


ABOUT

About e360
Contact
Submission Guidelines
Reprints

E360 en Español

Universia partnership
Yale Environment 360 articles are now available in Spanish and Portuguese on Universia, the online educational network.
Visit the site.


DEPARTMENTS

Opinion
Reports
Analysis
Interviews
Forums
e360 Digest
Podcasts
Video Reports

TOPICS

Biodiversity
Business & Innovation
Climate
Energy
Forests
Oceans
Policy & Politics
Pollution & Health
Science & Technology
Sustainability
Urbanization
Water

REGIONS

Antarctica and the Arctic
Africa
Asia
Australia
Central & South America
Europe
Middle East
North America

e360 VIDEO

“video
Tribal people and ranchers join together to stop a project that would haul coal across their Montana land.
Watch the video.

e360 MOBILE

Mobile
The latest
from Yale
Environment 360
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile.

e360 PHOTO ESSAY

“Alaska
An aerial view of why Europe’s per capita carbon emissions are less than 50 percent of those in the U.S.
View the photos.

e360 VIDEO

“Battle
The 2015 Yale e360 Video Contest winner documents a Northeastern town's bitter battle over a wind farm.
Watch the video.

e360 VIDEO

Food waste
An e360 video series looks at the staggering amount of food wasted in the U.S. – a problem with major human and environmental costs.
Watch the video.

e360 VIDEO

Colorado wildfires
An e360 video goes onto the front lines with Colorado firefighters confronting deadly blazes fueled by a hotter, drier climate.
Watch the video.

e360 SPECIAL REPORT

“Tainted
A three-part series Tainted Harvest looks at the soil pollution crisis in China, the threat it poses to the food supply, and the complexity of any cleanup.
Read the series.

OF INTEREST



Yale