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A land of pumped storage potential

Putting Australia’s future in storage

Australia’s coal powerplants are not getting any younger. Luckily, a booming renewable energy market – including investment in pumped storage solutions – heralds a bright future for the land Down Under.

In opening an office in Sydney, Australia, Voith Hydro is ideally positioned to deliver timely, meaningful solutions to a country in need.

In recent times Australia was faced with a problem: its vast distances, varied energy systems, changing climate, rising consumption and aging coal-fired power stations placed it at the precipice of a potential energy crisis. Solutions were needed – and fast – if Australians were to keep their power on. In opening an office in Sydney, Voith Hydro has arrived at just the right time to join the enthusiasm for renewable energy solutions. From its new position, it is set to provide long-lasting, customized strategies – including pumped storage – just as Australia needs them most.

The situation at hand

With an area of 7.692 million km², Australia is not lacking in space. What it is lacking, however, is electrical grid stability. While the largest part of the country’s current electricity supply comes from coal, its coal-fired power stations are aging, with many set for retirement. Renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydropower, currently represent 17% of Australia’s total electricity generation, with hydro making up the largest part (33.9% of total clean energy generated). On the national stage, hydropower has an installed capacity of nearly 8,800 MW, almost 50% of which is generated by the nation’s largest hydroelectric undertaking: the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.

This patchwork energy supply, exacerbated by an increase in energy consumption and disruptive changes in climate, sets a challenge for grid stability. “It is becoming harder and harder to keep energy production and consumption in balance at all times,” explains Regis Simon, Vice President Sales for Southeast Asia at Voith Hydro, summing up the problem the nation has been facing. 

In response – and further motivated by national renewable targets, which it is set to reach ahead of schedule – the land Down Under has fixed its focus on renewable energies and, in particular, on technologies that can help to restore balance. Pumped storage projects – including two large-scale undertakings including Snowy 2.0 (in New South Wales), and the “Battery of the Nation” initiative (in Tasmania) as well as various IPP projects including Kidston (in Queensland), Goat Hill (in South Australia), Shoalhaven (in New South Wales) and others – have made it to the forefront of the political and national consciousness, providing a field of opportunity for the sector.

A land of pumped storage potential

“As multifunctional power plants, pumped storage facilities have a high benefit for the challenges facing Australia,” says Dr. Klaus Krüger, Head of Plant & Product Safety and Innovation at Voith Hydro and one of the company’s leading experts on pumped storage hydropower plants. According to Krüger, pumped hydro technology is the only long-term, technically proven and cost-effective form of storing energy on a large scale. An assertion backed by the 2018 Australian Energy Resources Assessment (AERA), which found that pumped hydroelectricity storage was “the most mature and economically viable form of flexible capacity.”

When compared with batteries, pumped storage facilities have far greater outputs, a significantly longer typical design life of equipment and a greater number of design cycles. What’s more, Voith Hydro’s cutting-edge variable-speed units carry additional benefits pertinent to the Australian electricity market, including the ability to stabilize grid faults and intermittent renewables, balance transmission bottlenecks, and provide hybrid energy management. “Pumped storage plants can share grid infrastructure with other renewable sources and batteries, integrating them into one control system,” says Krüger. “In this way, Voith Hydro can play a significant role in supporting the use of a renewable energy mix.”

The “Battery of the Nation” initiative would harness Tasmania’s hydroelectric potential, placing the state at the center of Australia’s energy market.

This is good news for a country with seemingly limitless pumped storage potential. An analysis carried out by the Australian National University found that Australia has the capacity to store up to 1,000 times more renewable energy than it could ever conceivably need. Additionally, at least 22,000 locations suitable for pumped hydro have been identified nationwide. And while the nation hasn’t seen the installation of any large-scale pumped storage facilities in the last 30 years, all of that is about to change.

“The federal government and Commonwealth authorities, among others, are supporting various initiatives, at a time when renewable energy continues to make up a greater share of the market,” says Simon. The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme is fully backed by the Federal Government, while Hydro Tasmania, with the support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), has been developing a blueprint for the role that Tasmania can play in Australia’s electricity market. One option being explored involves the expansion of existing hydroelectric assets and the construction of 2,500 MW of new pumped hydro, to turn the state into the “Battery of the Nation.” Earlier this year, the government of South Australia also committed to grant funding for four new pumped hydro projects. “Pumped storage is an increasingly vital component of Australia’s energy market and remains one of the key assets in realizing the country’s energy transition plan,” Simon concludes.

Voith Hydro in Australia

Opening its doors earlier in the year, and headed by David Edwards, Sales Manager for Oceania, Voith Hydro’s Sydney office is in a prime position to support pumped storage and other hydropower projects Down Under. Working as a HyService hub, the new facility will aim to quickly and responsively deliver high-quality equipment, services and tailor-made solutions to local manufacturers and customers to support new, national hydroelectric initiatives and development plans.

“Australia is a large country,” says Simon. “A local presence helps us to overcome geographical challenges while also gaining a better understanding of the market and regulatory framework and forming local partnerships to better meet the needs of the region.” After a well-received inaugural celebration, Voith Hydro is set to use its experience and state-of-the-art products to help Australia realize its pumped storage and energy potential, smash its renewable energy targets and attempt to be 100% renewable by 2035.