Pushing Europe’s Pumped Storage Potential

David AppleyardChief Editor

An assessment of the potential for Europe to develop additional hydro pumped storage has revealed that there are opportunities to increase the region’s pumped storage capacity by a factor of 10.

The Joint Research Centre (JRC), Institute for Energy and Transport report concludes that ambitious European climate and energy policy targets mean a massive shift from fossil to renewable sources is under way. For example, the European Wind Energy Association expects electricity production from wind power to nearly triple by 2020. By introducing significant amounts of variable power, a European energy system with possibilities for energy storage and balancing services through conventional hydro plants with reservoirs and pumped storage hydro would allow, for instance, more wind power in the system without compromising security of supply. The report concludes that flexible hydropower thus creates value but also increases energy security as well as the speed of phasing in more renewables.

The study focuses on two topologies, one in which two reservoirs exist already with the adequate difference in elevation and are close enough so that they can be linked by a new penstock and electrical equipment, and another based on one existing reservoir, when there is a suitable site close enough to build a second. The scenarios modeled consist of different maximum distances possible between the two reservoirs of a prospective pumped storage scheme.

The results show that the theoretical potential in Europe is significant under both topologies and that the potential of the second scenario is roughly double that of the first. Under the first model, the theoretical potential energy stored reaches 54 TWh when a maximum of 20 km between existing reservoirs is considered. Of this potential, about 11 TWh correspond to the EU and 37 TWh to EU member state candidate countries, mostly Turkey. When a shorter maximum distance between existing reservoirs is considered, for example 5 km, the majority (85%) of the 830 MWh of European theoretical potential is in the EU.

Under the second scenario, the European theoretical potential reaches 123 TWh when the distance between the existing reservoir and the prospective site is up to 20 km. The majority of this potential lies within the EU. For a distance between reservoirs of 5 km, a theoretical potential of 15 TWh exists, of which 7.4 TWh is within the EU.

Considering constraints to development, the JRC concludes that the maximum realizable potential for the first scenario at 20 km separation is 29 TWh, and for the 5 km scenario it is reduced, but still to a substantial 200 MWh.

The second scenario is less affected by constraints, and under the 20 km scenario the realizable potential in Europe reaches 80 TWh, of which 33 TWh is in the EU. Under the 5 km scenario, those potentials reach 10 TWh for Europe, of which 40% is in the EU.

A comparison with the existing pumped storage hydro capacity reported in the 14 countries considered in the analysis suggests that under the first scenario, the theoretical potential is 3.5 times the existing capacity, whereas the realizable potential under the second scenario is 10 times as much as the existing capacity.

In this edition of HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide, we explore this theme further with a feature article that considers the different drivers of pumped storage development in Europe and the USA.

Of course central to the theme of new hydro capacity – pumped storage or otherwise – is the issue of investment, and according to the recently published International Hydropower Association 2013 Hydropower Report, 2012 saw significant investment in hydro.

Furthermore, their observations suggest that investment in hydropower projects is becoming increasing global, with investors exploring new regions. They cite South Korean investments in Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines, and Chinese and Indian activity in Africa as examples.

Last year, the world’s installed hydropower capacity grew to 985 GW, with an additional total of 130 GW of pumped storage capacity, and the IHA gives an estimated figure of 27 GW to 30 GW of new conventional hydro and 2 GW to 3 GW of new pumped storage commissioned over the year. The report notes this development has often been accompanied by renewable energy support policies.

As part of our role in facilitating investment in hydropower, this edition is dedicated to our Buyers’ Guide. This comprehensive directory provides bang-up-to-date contact information for every product and service provider that the hydropower industry needs. We hope that you find it a valuable tool in boosting the hydro investment so desperately required to meet our climate and clean energy goals.

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