IHA, DOE launch global initiative to tap hydropower’s potential as a clean, green battery

The International Hydropower Association (IHA) together with the U.S. Department of Energy are launching a global initiative of 11 national governments and more than 60 organizations aimed at addressing the urgent worldwide need for clean and reliable energy storage.

The International Forum on Pumped Storage Hydropower (IFPSH) will develop policy proposals and exchange knowledge on the technical and market reforms necessary to overcome barriers to sustainable pumped storage hydropower (PSH) projects, the “world’s water batteries.”

The initiative, launched Nov. 3, 2020, will bring together the governments of the U.S., Austria, Brazil, Estonia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Israel, Morocco, Norway and Switzerland, as well as international financial institutions, non-profit organizations and energy companies.

Former Prime Minister of Australia Malcom Turnbull, a leading advocate for PSH, will give a keynote address at the inaugural virtual forum to more than 100 high-level representatives of the partner organizations.

“With this initiative, we have an opportunity to help ensure that pumped storage hydropower will play an important role in our power systems today and into the future,” said Daniel R Simmons, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “Several developers have plans to build new pumped storage hydropower plants in the United States, and we hope the work of this forum will help them get those plants built, to help make the grid of the future more reliable and robust.”

Eddie Rich, CEO of IHA, commented: “The International Renewable Energy Agency has stated that pumped storage hydropower, which provides most of the world’s energy storage capacity, needs to nearly double by 2050 to meet ambitious global climate targets. The good news is that there is massive potential, including over 600,000 potential off-river sites that have recently been identified, plus opportunities for modernizing existing plants.

“Over the next year, the forum’s partners are expected to exchange good practices and agree proposals to clear the way for an upsurge in pumped storage developments while also looking at ways to improve the sustainability and efficiency of existing facilities.” 

Benefits of pumped storage

According to a press release, PSH is an ideal complement to modern clean energy systems as it can accommodate for the variability and seasonality of fast-growing solar and wind power. It enjoys several advantages over other forms of energy storage due to its long asset life, large storage capacity, low lifetime cost and reduced dependence on imported raw materials.

PSH is the world’s largest energy storage technology, accounting for over 94% of installed energy storage capacity. IHA estimates that PSH projects now store at least 9,000 GWh of electricity globally.

As the International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated, pumped storage hydropower is the “often overlooked workhorse” of system flexibility. To cope with growing demands placed on power grids created by the transition away from fossil fuels and the rapid rise in variable renewables, significant investments are needed, from the public and private sectors, in the long-duration, low-carbon storage that PSH provides.

Similarly, IRENA estimates under its “Transforming Energy Scenario” — setting out what is needed to hold the rise in global temperatures to well below 2 degree Celsius (C) — that global PSH capacity will need to double from nearly 160 GW today to 325 GW over the next 30 years.

Despite being an ideal source of clean energy storage to integrate wind and solar power, worldwide growth in PSH remains slow, having been stymied by a lack of policy and financial incentives for new developments.

About the forum

The IFPSH is a cross-sectoral initiative convened by IHA and chaired by DOE, with the governments of Austria, Brazil, Estonia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Israel, Morocco, Norway and Switzerland participating. The forum is expected to report back over the next 12 months with a program of initiatives and policy proposals.

Multilateral development banks such as the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), as well as IRENA, are participating in the forum.

Leading private sector, research and financial organizations who have joined as founding partners include EDF, GE Renewable Energy, Voith, Hydro Tasmania, Mott MacDonald, Australian National University, IHE Delft, the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy, the Energy and Resources Institute of India and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

IHA is a non-profit membership organization with a mission to advance sustainable hydropower by building and sharing knowledge on its role in renewable energy systems, responsible freshwater management and climate change solutions.

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