Kaptis hydropower
Featured image: Stock

The International Hydropower Association (IHA) and the US Department of Energy (DOE) are leading the International Forum on Pumped Storage Hydropower this week.

The forum is a global, multi-stakeholder initiative of 11 governments and more than 60 organisations aimed at addressing the urgent need for clean and reliable energy storage.

Premiered on 3 November 2020, the week-long forum brings together the governments of the USA, Austria, Brazil, Estonia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Israel, Morocco, Norway and Switzerland, as well as international financial institutions, non-profit organisations and leading energy companies such as EDF, GE Renewable Energy, Voith and Hydro Tasmania.

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.

Read more:
Can seasonal pumped hydropower storage fulfil energy and H2O needs?

Is it possible to climate-proof East Africa’s hydropower sector?

“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 Turnbull.

Hydropower technologies

Speaking at the event, Daniel R Simmons, assistant secretary for the US 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 (pumped storage hydropower) 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), 14,000GW 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 325GW 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% since 2014.

Although several pumped storage facilities are under development across the US, 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.

Unlocking pumped storage hydropower potential

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.”

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.