Forum launched to shape the future of pumped storage hydropower

At the inaugural meeting of the International Forum on Pumped Storage Hydropower, keynote speaker and former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged governments and industry to move quickly to develop projects at the scale needed to support the rapid roll-out of variable renewables.

“I believe we urgently need to raise awareness of pumped hydro and its vital role in the clean energy transition. This will require the industry to have a higher profile with the goal of engaging governments and heads of government to make it happen," he said.

“We have to get going. [Wind and solar power] can be built in months, but pumped hydro takes several years. Pumped hydro can provide short term storage and load following, as can batteries. But its real comparative advantage is that with sufficient scale in water and elevation it can provide days or even weeks of energy storage,” added Mr Turnbull at the virtual forum on 3 November 2020.

The International Hydropower Association (IHA) and the U.S. Department of Energy are leading the forum, which brings together 11 national governments and more than 70 organisations from the hydropower industry, financial institutions, academia and NGOs to share their experiences, build best practice and develop policy proposals that can help accelerate pumped storage development. The meeting was attended by 200 high-level participants from 40 countries.

International collaboration

In his opening address, Daniel R Simmons, Assistant Secretary for the U.S. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said: “We still need to have an electric grid which is incredibly reliable and pumped storage hydropower contributes greatly to this.

“We recognise with hydropower and with PSH that there needs to be international collaboration… because the challenges are very similar. For example, we want to recognise the XFLEX HYDRO project where more than a dozen partners have come together to demonstrate new hydropower technologies at locations across Europe.”

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), 14,000 GW of additional variable wind and solar capacity is needed by 2050 to meet the aims of the Paris Agreement, and substantial levels of new investment in long-duration, low-carbon energy storage will be required to meet expected demand.

Pumped storage hydropower, also known as ‘the world’s water battery’ is a flexible, clean, dispatchable source of electricity. It is needed to facilitate increasing quantities of variable renewables, which require a back-up to ensure the stability of power systems.

IRENA has stated that global pumped storage hydropower capacity will need to double from nearly 160 GW today to 325 GW over the next 30 years, to limit the rise in global temperatures to below 2 degree Celsius.

Pumped storage hydropower (PSH) development however remains stagnant in many markets. Outside China, the world’s largest pumped storage producer, year-on-year installed capacity growth has been just 1.5 per cent since 2014.

Although several pumped storage facilities are under development across the United States, India and Australia, global growth has been constrained due to a combination of factors. These include a lack of awareness about the technology’s capabilities, complex permitting arrangements and outdated market and regulatory frameworks which fail to provide appropriate incentives for development.

Balancing power

During the forum, speakers emphasised the need to raise awareness about the benefits of sustainable pumped storage with policy and financial decision-makers globally, and to move quickly to progress new developments, to meet the requirements of the rapidly changing energy mix.

The World Bank’s Dr Demetrios Papathanasiou, Global Director of Energy and Extractives said: “Pumped storage hydropower is the only renewable option that can currently produce commercially viable balancing power to integrate variable renewable technologies at-scale.

“The potential for pumped storage appears to be enormous. We have plenty of sites in Africa, Asia, and Latin America…the challenge is in identifying the right sites, connecting them with the grid and using them as best we can in planning for the clean energy transition.”

Mr Benoit Revaz, State Secretary and Director, Swiss Federal Office of Energy, said: “We consider the forum timely and opportune because hydropower and PSH in particular are often not given the attention they deserve. Hydropower has been the backbone of Switzerland’s electricity system for more than a century.  

“A recent EU study shows that PSH is by far the main energy storage reservoir in Europe. However, the future looks uncertain and the study recognises that PSH faces regulatory and market barriers. We see a key role for this forum as raising awareness with policymakers about the benefits of hydropower and PSH.”

Working groups

Mr Srikant Nagulapalli, Chairman, New & Renewable Energy Development Corporation of Andhra Pradesh Ltd commented: “We intend to transition from the conventional grid to a green grid over the next ten to 15 years… we will be forced to rely on some balancing source for absorbing this wind and solar. So, our plan is to establish at least 6,000 to 7,000 MW of pumped hydro projects in the State over the next ten years.”

To unlock further PSH development, the Forum’s Steering Committee has identified the need for three working groups: ‘Policy and Market Frameworks, ‘Sustainability’, and ‘Capabilities, costs and innovation’. These working groups will bring together expertise from around the world to work on and help address these common challenges over the next 12 months.

Speaking on the Policy and Market Frameworks, Mr JC Sandberg, Managing Director of Global Government Affairs and Policy, GE Renewable Energy, said: “As the need for storage and grid support increases, pumped storage is the best large-scale energy storage solution”

“There are roles for both batteries and pumped storage and there will be for the foreseeable future.  

“We can make some recommendations on policy and markets to allow governments to put in place the right legal and business conditions to ensure transparency and visibility.”

Large scale power storage solution

The Sustainability working group will focus on environmental impacts/benefits of PSH development, testing PSH projects against existing sustainability tools like HESG Gap Analysis Tool, and assessing the territorial value creation of PSH assets for local communities.  

Commenting on this, Mr Antoine Malafosse, International Project Manager, EDF Hydro, said: “We need PSH for a sustainable economy… when it comes to a  sustainable socio-environmental impact, we have to demonstrate that PSH has a limited impact and that when it is negative, we have capacity to manage this impact using mitigation, minimisation or compensation.”

Mr Klaus Krüger, Senior Expert Plant Safety & Energy Storage Solutions, Voith Hydro, reinforced the importance of pumped storage as an established technology when speaking on the Capabilities, Costs & Innovation working group: “PSH is the only proven large scale power storage solution for 112 years.”

He described the key aims for this group as: improving understanding of PSH and its role in providing storage and flexibility services, to address the needs of future electricity systems; assessing how it compares with other energy storage technologies; raising awareness with policy makers, the media and other audiences; and highlighting the latest technological innovations in PSH.

Mr Richard Taylor, Strategic Adviser, XFLEX HYDRO, stated that one of the biggest opportunities for the Forum is to enable a better understanding of storage within the hydro sector and broader policy audiences, as well as those responsible for designing the markets that will determine future energy investment.  

“We need to raise awareness about the options when designing pumped storage projects. The XFLEX HYDRO initiative is demonstrating new technologies in terms of digitalisation, variable speed and fixed speed, at seven sites across Europe.”

Find out more by reading the press release.

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