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Update: Australia’s pumped hydro storage potential

A pumped hydro storage study conducted through the Australian National University has identified a total 22,000 potential sites for energy storage across Australia, a figure exceeding researchers’ initial expectations.

The study, which received $449,000 in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is aiming to produce a nationwide atlas of potential off-river pumped hydro storage sites.

New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory have the largest number of sites at 8600, with potential for 29,000GWh storage capacity, followed by Victoria’s 4400 suitable sites, with potential for 11,000GWh storage capacity.

The research team lead by Dr Andrew Blakers published an article on The Conversation stating the amount of suitable sites for pumped hydro energy storage discovered around the country far exceeds the amount needed to support a 100% renewable electricity system.

“To put this in perspective, our earlier research showed that Australia needs just 450GWh of storage capacity (and 20GW of generation power) spread across a few dozen sites to support a 100% renewable electricity system,” the research team stated.

“In other words, Australia has so many good sites for PHES [pumped hydro energy storage] that only the best 0.1% of them will be needed. Developers can afford to be choosy with this significant oversupply of sites.”

Furthermore, the research team wrote that water and land use for a pumped hydro energy storage solution in Australia is vastly less than the current fossil fuel sector.

“Annual water requirements of a PHES-supported 100% renewable electricity grid would be less than one-third that of the current fossil fuel system, because wind and PV do not require cooling water,” the team states.

“About 3600ha of PHES reservoir is required to support a 100% renewable electricity grid for Australia, which is 0.0005% of Australia’s land area, and far smaller than the area of existing water storages.”

Blakers’ research team also noted the ability to incorporate PHES into Australia’s energy storage mix now could help balance the grid ahead of coal mine closures.

“Fast-track development of a few excellent PHES sites can be completed in 2022 to balance the grid when Liddell and other coal-fired power stations close.”