Viewpoint: Getting Pumped for the Future

For context, in 2012 (the most recent data available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration) worldwide pumped hydropower capacity was 104 GW: 44 GW in Europe, 33 GW in Asia and Oceania, 22 GW in North America, 2 GW each in Africa and Eurasia and 1 GW in Central and South America

And there is significant potential for new development. For example, we recently reported that two pumped-storage plants with a total capacity of more than 1,600 MW will be built in Nepal. In addition, Israel is working toward building a 340 MW pumped-storage project in Manara Cliff and the Philippines says it remains committed to developing its 390 MW Alimit facility, which includes a 250 MW pumped-storage plant. In the U.S., the Department of Energy released its Hydropower Vision report in July 2016 and it pointed to potential new capacity of 35.5 GW for pumped storage in that country (significantly larger than the existing 22 GW).

The Energy Storage Association says pumped hydro is the most common type of energy storage, employed “for the better part of the last century in the United States and around the world.” The association also acknowledges that pumped-storage hydro is “the most common type of grid-level energy storage based on megawatts installed today.”

The article on page 10 provides a discussion of a special service pumped storage can provide to energy systems with a large share of intermittent renewable resources (such as wind and solar). This service is the ability to provide the flexibility needed to compensate for errors in the forecast of availability of intermittent renewable energy sources. In the end, the authors determined that adding pumped storage capacity of 3 GW in Germany will, through the above service, provide economic benefit of as much as US$115 billion annually. That’s a pretty impressive number, and it’s only one country.

As alluded to above, there is a great opportunity for synergy between pumped-storage hydro and wind and solar generation. But how can these disparate generation technologies work together? One example is a pilot project being built in Germany that will combine 16 MW of pumped storage with four wind turbines. Another unique arrangement proposed in Chile combines a 300 MW pumped-storage plant with a 600 MW solar PV facility.

I think it’s safe to say we’re going to see strong movement with regard to pumped-storage development in the coming years. The best way to keep up to date on this activity is to visit and click on Pumped Storage Hydro under the Hydro Project Activity tab at the top of the page.

For more on pumped storage, check out my brief analysis in the new Inside the Industry segment of the Nov. 3 Power Today newscast, available on directly below the Hydro Headlines Weekly Newscast video.

Elizabeth Ingram
Managing Editor

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