Pumped storage hydropower to turbocharge the clean energy transition

18 December 2018

An additional 78,000 megawatts (MW) in clean energy storage capacity is expected to come online by 2030 from hydropower reservoirs fitted with pumped storage technology, according to the International Hydropower Association (IHA).

In a working paper published today, The World’s Water Battery: Pumped Hydropower Storage and the Clean Energy Transition, IHA also estimates that pumped hydropower storage projects globally now store up to 9,000 gigawatt hours (GWh).    

Guangzhou pumped storage plant, China. Credit: Voith.

“Pumped hydropower storage (PHS) accounts for over 94 per cent of global energy storage capacity, ahead of lithium-ion and other forms of storage,” said IHA Senior Analyst Nicholas Troja, one of the paper’s authors. “It will play a critical role in the clean energy transition by supporting variable renewable energy, reducing greenhouse emissions and providing stability to power grids.”

With more than 100 projects currently in the pipeline, existing pumped hydropower storage capacity is expected to increase by almost 50 per cent by 2030 – from 161,000 MW today to 239,000 MW – according to the working paper which draws on data from IHA’s Hydropower Pumped Storage Tracking Tool.

The working paper describes the benefits of pumped storage as power systems seek to incorporate more wind and solar projects into their portfolios. Innovations such as variable speed pump-turbines and ternary systems are allowing for faster and wider operating ranges, providing additional flexibility at all timescales, and enabling higher penetrations of variable renewable energy at lower system costs.

Download The World’s Water Battery: Pumped Hydropower Storage and the Clean Energy Transition.

The authors also investigate current business models and emerging opportunities for financing PHS projects, particularly in liberalised energy markets, while warning of barriers to future development. Despite the projected growth in PHS capacity, they note that policy and market frameworks are not properly incentivising and rewarding the services it provides.

“Pumped storage technology and operations support the energy transition, however policies and market frameworks have struggled to catch up and are failing to adequately reward the flexibility provided by hydropower,” added Mr Troja.

The publication is released alongside a major update to IHA’s Hydropower Pumped Storage Tracking Tool, which shows the status of PHS projects around the world, their installed generating and pumping capacity, and their actual or planned date of commissioning.

Visit the Hydropower Pumped Storage Tracking Tool:

IHA Senior Analyst Mathis Rogner said: “The working paper draws on data newly available through the Hydropower Pumped Storage Tracking Tool, the most comprehensive online resource of its kind on the world's water batteries. This builds on IHA’s knowledge building programme involving sector monitoring and analysis to inform discussion and debate about new trends and developments in the hydropower sector.”

The December 2018 update to the tracking tool includes additional information on PHS projects, both operational and in various stages of development. The tool’s interactive map includes configuration details for each project, including estimations of total energy stored and maximum head.

The working paper concludes by setting out the policy areas and knowledge gaps that would benefit from further research and discussion to advance the role of pumped hydropower storage in clean energy systems.

At the World Hydropower Congress, in Paris between 14-16 May 2019, decision-makers, policy-makers, experts and innovators from across the sector will explore the changing landscape for pumped storage. A focus session on 15 May will look at the policy and market mechanisms that are required to ensure stable power grids and cost-effective pumped hydro operations.

Learn more about pumped storage hydropower.

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