A recent analysis conducted by the Australian National University (ANU) has revealed that the country has the potential to store up to 1,000 times more renewable energy than it would ever need.
The study, which saw a team of researchers investigating tens of thousands of pumped hydro sites around Australia, offered significant insight into the country’s storage capacity. According to lead researcher Andrew Blakers, an engineering professor with ANU, at least 22,000 suitable locations are available throughout Australia.
“No matter where you are in Australia, you will find a good pumped hydro site not very far away from where you, or your wind or your solar farm, is located,” said Blakers, adding that the greatest number of sites could be found in New South Wales and from North Queensland down to near Melbourne.
This research indicates that Australia has the potential to transition to 100 percent renewable energy within the next twenty years, simply by building storage at even just a small number of those identified sites. Even just one or two dozen would be enough for a completely renewable grid, Blaker said.
According to Matthew Stocks, an engineering research fellow with ANU, the average facility would be capable of providing maximum power for anywhere between five hours up to a full day – power that could be easily sent to the grid whenever necessary.
“It can go from zero to full power in about one minute,” Stocks said.
During times when power is readily available, a pumped hydro system will transport water uphill between a pair of connected reservoirs. During times of higher demand, or when solar and wind power aren’t working, the system will dispatch power back to the grid.
The technology is popular in Japan and the United States, as well as Europe – particularly in Alpine regions of Germany, France, and Italy, and Scandinavian countries. Australia’s first pumped hydro site, at the Tumut 3 Power Station at Talbingo in New South Wales, opened in the 1970s.
As Australia continues to invest in renewable energy sources, though, there will be a more pressing need for pumped hydro storage. According to Blakers, with so little solar and wind currently in the system, the storage isn’t necessary.
“Maybe now, South Australia, at 50 percent wind and solar PV, is just getting to the stage where it does need either strong interconnection or pumped hydro or both,” he said. “But the other states will catch up and will be at the 50 percent level by the early 2020s, I think, so they also need to start planning with pumped hydro now.”
Blakers added that with a bit of additional work, this kind of planning could dramatically reduce the entire country’s environmental impact.
“Pumped hydro, high-voltage DC interconnectors between the states, solar photovoltaics, wind, batteries, and demand management can do the whole job,” Blakers said. “Not just the whole job for electricity, but the whole job for energy – electrify land transport, electrify heating and cooling and you could make 75 percent cuts in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.”