Energy secretary urges pumped storage investment to support grid

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is calling for increased investment in pumped-storage hydropower to support an expanded electricity transmission grid that will carry a greater share of intermittent generation from wind and solar sources.

Participating in a clean energy economy forum Feb. 23 at the Center for American Progress, Chu emphasized the need to develop a more comprehensive and sophisticated smart grid to carry renewable energy from remote sites to load centers. He said a problem with the concept is that non-hydro renewable energy — primarily wind and solar power — are transient.

Chu said the unreliability of such renewable energy is not significant when it constitutes only 2.8 percent of electricity generated. He said the problem would arise when such renewables reach 15 to 30 percent of the power generated, a goal of President Obama and others in Congress.

At that point, more long-distance high-voltage grid capacity will be needed “because the wind is always blowing somewhere.” However, that will require an increased ability to store electricity, a function currently performed most efficiently by pumped-storage hydropower.

“We should start to invest heavily in pumped hydro storage,” Chu said. “We also should start to look at compressed air storage.”

The National Hydropower Association hailed the remark saying pumped storage is a proven technology that can be used now, even as the nation pursues additional energy storage technologies.

“We urge the secretary and other officials to establish policies that encourage aggressive investment in pumped-storage projects,” NHA Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said. “Not only will these investments serve our energy and environmental goals, but they will also bolster our economy by creating jobs throughout the country.”

Hydro industry advocates tax credits for pumped storage development

Church Ciocci said NHA’s pumped storage council is working on strategies to speed development of the critical capability.

“One of our primary goals is to craft incentives that attract investors and encourage rapid development of new pumped-storage projects,” she said. “Right now, the federal government has no program to spur expansion of pumped storage capacity. NHA is advocating for investment tax credits or other similar measures that can incentivize pumped storage development immediately.”

NHA said there currently is 20,355 MW of pumped storage capacity in the United States. Developers are proposing more than 20 additional pumped-storage projects in 11 states totaling more than 23,000 MW. (HNN 2/5/09)

Another participant in the clean energy economy forum, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he planned to introduce legislation to advance development of a grid that can deliver renewable energy from remote locations to urban populations. (HNN 2/24/09) Taking input from the forum, Reid said his bill would require the president to designate areas that have the potential to produce significant amounts of clean energy. Grid planning then would begin in those areas.

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