Across the U.S., state and local governments continue to set aggressive renewable energy goals. Solar and wind power are often used to help meet these new standards — whether because of favorable tax incentives or quick deployment timeframes. But as the growth of intermittent resources increases, it is clear that these resources need to be combined with a reliable backup.
That’s where technologies like hydropower pumped storage can be an ideal addition to a renewable energy portfolio. It’s like a “water battery” that balances energy production when intermittent renewables aren’t generating power or there is more generation on the grid than is needed. By storing renewable energy resources for later use, such as during peak demand times, pumped storage serves as a highly flexible resource for keeping the energy grid running smoothly.
Since deregulation of the electric system in the 1990s, and the decline in new coal and nuclear developments, there have been few new domestic developments of pumped storage. However, as the U.S. energy portfolio shifts from large coal and nuclear plants to renewable energy solutions, energy storage technologies like pumped storage are being strongly considered to help stabilize the grid.
The U.S. DOE recently reported that we could add nearly 21 GW of pumped storage hydro capacity by 2030.
What can help state and local leaders understand and tap the potential of hydropower pumped storage? First, leaders need to have a longer-term commitment to this solution, given the longer licensing processes, project lead times and return on investment.
Next, better integration and collaboration between federal and state agencies in early stage licensing can help improve the project implementation process. And, future policy updates and changes should encourage the development and deployment of all energy storage solutions.
Equally important is public understanding that virtually all new developments seek to minimize their environmental impacts. From developing pumped storage without damning river systems to forming strong partnerships with new wind and solar developments for a single, sustainable renewable energy project — this stewardship is becoming the new “norm.”
There is a place for all renewable energy and energy storage resources in the U.S. energy portfolio. Pumped storage is a proven grid-scale energy storage solution. Put simply, the potential is there and the question is, “How do we best unlock it?”
Michael Manwaring, P.G., is vice president, Waterpower & Dams at Stantec and chair of the National Hydropower Association’s (NHA) Pumped Storage Development Council.