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Very large-scale pumped hydro energy storage in West Virginia

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Andrew Blakers's picture
Professor of Engineering, Australian National university

Andrew Blakers is Professor of Engineering at the Australian National University. He founded the solar PV research group at ANU. In the 1980s and 1990s he was responsible for the design and...

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  • Nov 15, 2021

As the transition to solar & wind gathers pace, West Virginia has a major economic opportunity to provide very large-scale pumped hydro energy storage for the eastern half of the USA. The USA has 35,000 good sites, mostly in the western mountains. Good sites in the east are less common and will command higher value.

West Virginia is the fifth largest energy producer in the US. It has major reserves of coal and gas, a moderate solar resource and small wind and hydro resources. Although it might appear that West Virginia will be a loser from the shift to solar & wind, the presence of many off-river pumped hydro sites is a major offsetting economic opportunity.

When solar and wind displace all fossil fuels in the eastern states, there will be a requirement for several Terawatt-hours of storage energy and several hundred Gigawatts of storage power for balancing. The required investment is several hundred billion dollars. West Virginia has sufficient off-river pumped hydro sites to capture a significant fraction of this storage opportunity.

Most pumped hydro is in the west. Eastern pumped hydro has extra value.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Nov 15, 2021

The claim that "the USA has 35,000 good sites" for pumped hydroelectric storage is dubious. I've read the ANU study which I believe is the source for that claim. It did not identify 35,000 "good sites". It identified 35,000 sites where a program that analyzed topographic data found that off-river PHS might -- or might not -- be feasible. It considered only topographic and population data. Its search area excluded national parks, towns, and river locations, but it did not consider land ownership, underlying geology, proximity to power transmission, or a multitude of other factors that would be needed to actually vet a site for PHS. 

Andrew Blakers's picture
Andrew Blakers on Nov 16, 2021

That's right. The task is to discard 34,900 sites and build the 100 best.

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Nov 22, 2021

Absolutely right.

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Nov 22, 2021

But the real problem is the economics.  If you believe batteries will improve sufficiently, you don't do any of this because of the difference in cost.  If there were some sort of loan guarantee program, these could be started immediately and would do a lot for West Virginia.

Andrew Blakers's picture
Andrew Blakers on Nov 23, 2021

Facts on the ground. Australia is way ahead of the USA in terms of per capita solar & wind (currently at 30% in the main grid and 73% in South Australia). Look there to see the future of the US grid.

Balancing is a combination of transmission, demand management, batteries and pumped hydro together. Batteries win for short term and pumped hydro for overnight and longer storage. eg Snowy 2.0 under construction is bigger than all the utility batteries in the world combined (350 GWh).

Andrew Blakers's picture
Thank Andrew for the Post!
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