Old vs new: Pumped storage

One of the more active areas of hydropower development right now is pumped storage. Particularly in regions where renewables like wind and solar are making a significant contribution to national power grids, the advantages of energy storage on a massive scale – sustained, sustainable and usable – cannot be over stated. This has been engendered by the push towards forms of renewable energy that are notorious for variable and largely unpredictable output.

It’s no doubt for this very reason that pump storage projects are under development around the world right now. Even retrofitting existing projects with reversible pump-turbines is a commercially viable proposition in today’s electricity markets, where the stability offered by pump-storage hydro is perhaps invaluable in terms of grid stability.

Indeed, Heike Bergmann, Member of the Board of Voith Hydro Heidenheim commented recently: “The globally growing share of renewable energy within the power supply changes the energy mix. Through the consistent use of the cost-effective and proven pumped storage technology, the key challenges of an energy system based on renewables can be mastered.”

It’s also noteworthy that just as new pumped storage hydro gets into its development stride that UK utility group ScottishPower recently announced the 50th anniversary of the official opening of the 440 MW Cruachan pumped storage hydro power station near Oban, Argyll in the UK.

Although construction began back in 1959, Cruachan is still delivering important energy balancing services in a way that cannot have ever been envisaged by its designers.

Joss Blamire, Senior Policy Manager at Scottish Renewables, explains: “Cruachan allows electricity produced at times of low demand to be stored, then deployed when it is needed. The ‘Tunnel Tigers’ who built the scheme 50 years ago might not have foreseen the changes that would take place in our energy system over the next half century, but it’s a testament to their engineering skills that the legacy they have left is now playing a vital role in combating climate change and keeping our lights on.”

Certainly, the benefits of good design means installations like Cruachan can still be of service many decades after their initial commissioning date and in ways that can have scarcely imagined in a time before the personal computer. In another five decades and more, the world be at least as different again as it was when the first sod was turned at Cruachan. And good design will mean that the pumped storage facilities under construction today will still be offering services then.

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David Appleyard formerly was the Chief Editor, HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide.

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