Federal Government gives green light for pumped hydro project

Posted 21 February 2017

Pumped hydro storageThe Australian Government will invest in alternative energy solutions, including pumped hydro technology, with the aim of generating greater stability for Australia’s energy grids

Pumped hydroelectric storage technologies will have the ability to overcome intermittency issues present in the majority of clean energy solutions, said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

"I have ... written to Alan Finkel asking him to advise on the role of storage and pumped hydro in stabilising the grid. Large-scale storage will support variable renewables like wind and solar," Turnbull said. 

"It will get more value out of existing baseload generation and enhance grid stability.” 

The Turnbull Government is putting its money where its mouth is by announcing $54 million in funding via a loan from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) for a large-scale solar development paired with pumped hydro storage. 

Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg recently directed the CEFC and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena) to fund large-scale storage and flex capacity projects, including pumped hydro.

Once complete, the new facility at Genex Power’s Kidston Renewable Energy Hub could have up to 270MW of storage. 

“Policy should be all of the above technologies working together to deliver secure and affordable power while meeting our emission reduction commitments.” 

Pumped hydro involves two dams, one at the top of a hill and one at the bottom. Water runs down the hill to generate electricity, and is pumped up the hill to store for later use.

It’s a cost-effective way of maintaining consistent energy availability during low yield periods, Melbourne University researcher Dylan McConnell said.

"Basically, [it's] gravitational potential energy stored in water,” he said.

"You pump water from the bottom…when you've got cheap energy [prices], and let water run back down through a turbine and generate electricity when there's high demand and peak prices.”

The method is particularly useful because it doesn’t share the weakness of intermittent yield like some forms of renewable generation. 

"Wind and solar are constrained by when the wind is blowing and sun is shining and that is not the case for pumped hydro,” McConnell said. 

Turnbull and Frydenberg said the project demonstrated the government’s “strong commitment to energy security”.

Developing storage technology for renewables is important for stabilising the grid as electricity can still be used when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing,” said Turnbull.