Oven Mountain pumped hydro planned for future renewable energy zone

The Oven Mountain pumped hydro project could help to unlock the potential of the New England renewable energy zone.

By: ARENA

ARENA is providing $951,000 in funding for the Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro project to explore how a 600MW/7200MWh storage facility could benefit the renewable energy zone being developed in northern New South Wales.

A site situated between Armidale and Kempsey has been selected for its unique topography. First considered for a pumped hydro facility in the 1990s, the site features two natural granite reservoirs separated by a height differential of 600 metres, located approximately 2.5 kilometres apart.

The natural formations would allow water to be pumped up to the higher reservoir when solar and wind generation are high, then be released through a turbine to produce electricity when generation drops or demand rises.

The $2.2 million study will explore how the large storage facility could support the network in an area that has potential to become a hub for renewable generation.

WHAT IS A RENEWABLE ENERGY ZONE AND WHY DO THEY MATTER?

The project will include an assessment of how the new energy storage could improve system strength and unlock constraints in the network. That could not only allow more wind and solar farms to be connected, but also reduce the marginal loss factors that are affecting revenues for existing renewable generators.

More storage needed as energy transition advances

Building more storage to address these challenges will be vital as more renewable energy comes online and traditional generators are retired.

According to an ‘Insights” paper released by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) in mid 2019, more than 15 GW of storage will need to be in place by 2040. This storage will be needed to achieve the vision AEMO is working towards through its Integrated Systems Plan, which forecasts Australia’s generation to be dominated by large scale solar PV and wind within two decades.

While there are a range of energy storage technologies emerging, pumped hydro is predicted to play a major role due to its capacity to supply large amounts of energy over a long duration.

The Oven Mountain project is one of a number of energy storage projects to receive ARENA support, under its focus on integrating renewables into the electricity network.

Pumped Hydro Storage - How does it work infographic
Pumped Hydro Storage – How does it work infographic.

LEARN MORE ABOUT MANDATORY LOSS FACTORS WITH AEMO

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the study will provide knowledge about the role pumped hydro can play in the development of renewable energy zones.

“Pumped hydro projects like Oven Mountain can play a key role in the provision of firming up and balancing the grid as increased levels of variable renewable energy generation such as wind and solar come online,” Mr Miller said.

“Renewable Energy Zones like New England are sunny and windy areas with natural renewable energy resources, but they may be in weak areas of the grid. Pumped hydro can provide system security services like frequency and voltage support and it can provide bulk energy storage to help meet the evening peak,” he said.

While the technology that underpins pumped hydro is not new, there are only a handful of sites operating around Australia.

To help make pumped hydro storage commercially viable as the transition to renewable energy advances, ARENA has supported the Snowy 2.0 feasibility study, Tasmania’s plan to become the ‘battery of the nation’, and the feasibility assessment of repurposing an old gold mine in North Queensland.

Big names back Oven Mountain study

Alinta Energy is partnering on the Oven Mountain study, which will be supported by consultants Lloyd’s Register, SMEC and EY.

Executive Director of Merchant Energy at Alinta, Ken Woolley, said “What we really like about this project is its potential to pair with low cost renewables to help us deliver more affordable and reliable energy for our customers,” Woolley said.

In 2017 the project was awarded a grant through the NSW Government’s Emerging Energy Program, which supports the development of innovative, large-scale electricity and storage projects.

Oven Mountain Pumped Storage Director Dr Jeremy Moon said the New England renewable energy zone is strategically positioned near the border of Queensland and New South Wales.

“Pumped hydro technology evolution can support Australia’s generation transition. With its natural high hydrological head over a distance of around two kilometres, the Oven Mountain site allows for highly responsive synchronous machines to provide grid stability services that have traditionally been provided by fossil fuel generation.”

“We are excited for the opportunity to work with ARENA to demonstrate how pumped hydro can provide large scale storage and support the New England Renewable Energy Zone, networks, system security and increasing levels of low cost, dispatchable power,” he said.

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