Pumped storage hydropower to turbocharge the clean energy transition, IHA says

An additional 78,000 MW in clean energy storage capacity is expected to come online by 2030 from hydropower reservoirs fitted with pumped storage technology, according to the International Hydropower Association (IHA).

In a working paper published Dec. 18 — The World’s Water Battery: Pumped Hydropower Storage and the Clean Energy Transition — IHA also estimates that pumped hydropower storage (PHS) projects globally now store up to 9,000 GWh of electricity.

IHA Senior Analyst Nicholas Troja, one of the paper’s authors, said PHS accounts for more than 94% of global energy storage capacity. “It will play a critical role in the clean energy transition by supporting variable renewable energy, reducing greenhouse emissions and providing stability to power grids,” he said.

With more than 100 projects in the pipeline, existing pumped hydropower storage capacity is expected to increase by almost 50% by 2030 – from 161,000 MW today to 239,000 MW – according to data from IHA’s Hydropower Pumped Storage Tracking Tool.

The working paper describes the benefits of pumped storage as power systems seek to incorporate more wind and solar projects into their portfolios. Innovations such as variable speed pump-turbines and ternary systems are allowing for faster and wider operating ranges, providing additional flexibility at all time scales, and enabling higher penetrations of VRE at lower system costs.

The authors also investigate current business models and emerging opportunities for financing PHS projects, particularly in liberalized energy markets, while also warning of barriers to future development. Despite the projected growth in PHS capacity, they note that policy and market frameworks are not properly incentivizing and rewarding the services it provides.

“Pumped storage technology and operations support the energy transition, however policies and market frameworks have struggled to catch up and are failing to adequately reward the flexibility provided by hydropower,” added Troja.

The publication is released alongside a major update to the IHA Hydropower Pumped Storage Tracking Tool, which shows the status of a PHS project, its installed generating and pumping capacity, and its actual or planned date of commissioning.

The December 2018 update includes additional information on PHS projects, both operational and in various stages of development. The tool’s interactive map includes configuration details for each project, including estimations of total energy stored and maximum head.

The working paper concludes by setting out the policy areas and knowledge gaps that would benefit from further research and discussion to advance the role of pumped hydropower storage in clean energy systems.

In other recent IHA news, last week the association released its new Hydropower Sustainability Guidelines on Good International Industry Practice.

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