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Tasmanian interconnector project sets sail

They call them the roaring forties, a fearsome system of westerly winds that propelled the merchants and explorers of the sail age on journeys into a vast unknown.

And they could one day be the powerful but invisible force helping propel Australia into a renewable energy future.

But to harness the power of those winds, and the considerable potential for new pumped hydro energy storage schemes to allow Tasmania to act as a “battery of the nation”, further interconnection is needed to deliver electricity in both directions between the island state and the mainland.

Late last year, the Australian and Tasmanian Governments announced their intention to jointly fund a $20 million feasibility and business case assessment for a second interconnector.

With up to $10 million of funding from ARENA, TasNetworks is working on the most detailed analysis ever undertaken as to how a second Bass Strait interconnector could be designed and built.

The feasibility and business case assessment will build on previous less detailed studies and answer questions that must be addressed before a decision to build the interconnector is made, including the preferred capacity, best route and location.

TasNetworks has named the study Project Marinus – from the Latin word meaning ‘of the sea’, reflecting the marine connection between Tasmania and Victoria. This month, they will hold a number of public forums in both Victoria and Tasmania on the proposed interconnector.

Low Head Lighthouse onTasmania’s rugged north coast

 

These public forums follow the release of the first consultation paper, which identified a link of 600MW to 1,200MW as being roughly the ideal size for a second interconnector to enable new renewable energy zones.

In the consultation paper, the 600MW connection is projected to cost between $1.4-1.9 billion, while the 1200MW alternative is estimated to cost $1.9-2.7 billion.

Tasnetworks is looking at several routes for an undersea cable to pass beneath Bass Strait, where it can connect to strong parts of the Tasmanian and Victorian electricity networks.

The report predicts a second Bass Strait interconnector will improve energy reliability and security across the national energy market, particularly in Victoria and Tasmania.

Expected costs and timelines for the project are being examined, as well as the additional infrastructure required to integrate the Marinus Link into Tasmania and Victoria. Project Marinus will also look at environmental and planning considerations, as well as best models for the link’s construction, ownership and operation.

A new interconnector, should it be given the go-ahead, would be a key to unlocking the island state’s potential to act as “battery of a nation” and also be one of the largest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the state.

A MIGHTY WIND

Tasmania already has significant hydro capacity and a growing number of wind farms, particularly in the state’s rugged North-West, where some of the best wind resources in the world blow strong and regularly.

Musselroe Wind Farm in North-East Tasmania

Four new wind farms are being planned or constructed, including Cattle Hill in Central Tasmania, which will produce enough electricity to power 63,500 homes when it opens in late 2019.

But there is significant potential to build more wind farms over time and to use the energy they generate to meet the needs of other Australian states. A 1000MW wind farm is already in the pipeline for remote Robbins Island on Tasmania’s north west coast, if a second interconnector goes ahead.

Since Tasmanian wind farms rely on different weather systems than those in South Australia and Victoria, they can supply electricity at different times.

This electricity would be a valuable and complementary addition to the NEM, helping to smooth the variability that accompanies wind energy at present.

A PUMPED HYDRO FUTURE?

ARENA has already announced funding of up to $5 million for Hydro Tasmania to undertake feasibility studies as part of the Battery of the Nation initiatives. This work includes upgrading existing hydro power stations, identifying 14 high potential sites for pumped hydro and examining how wind power and hydro could help provide dispatchable, reliable power to other states.

As renewable energy grows to comprise a larger percentage of the nation’s electricity the importance of storage for ensuring grid security and reliability also increases. The Battery of the Nation is, partly, an attempt to provide for those future needs.

Here’s how it would work: Future pumped hydro projects in Tasmania could receive renewable energy from the national market when it is in plentiful supply to pump water uphill to be stored in reservoirs.

When generation drops or demand surges in other parts of Australia, water would be released to run downhill, through turbines, generating hydroelectricity that could either supply the local market or be sent back to mainland Australia via the Marinus Link.

Tarraleah hydro power station

BACKUP FOR TASMANIA AND VICTORIA

A second Bass Strait interconnector would help to manage the risks associated with relying on a single interconnector, providing backup for Tasmania and Victoria in the event of a local shortfall or disruption to existing supply.

Such a disruption occurred in 2015-16 when an extended outage of Basslink, combined with low hydro water storage levels, put pressure on Tasmanian energy reserves for an extended period. New storage level controls were put in place, but could be relaxed with greater interconnection, delivering greater benefits to customers.

With Tasmania’s energy demand highest in winter, and the rest of the national market highest in summer, the existing Basslink interconnector supports Victoria as demand rises on the hottest days. A second link would allow these transfers to continue in the event that either interconnector is out of service.

HAVEN’T WE LOOKED AT THIS ALREADY?

A second interconnector has long been thought about but has become a more pressing concern as the security of the national market is thrown into focus, and the importance of energy storage in providing that security becomes clear.

A preliminary report in June 2016 found that, if viable, a second interconnector would support long term energy security in Tasmania and integration of Tasmanian renewable energy into the NEM.

A second report, in April last year, from former Australian Energy Market Commission Chair John Tamblyn, found that the project was economically viable in some future scenarios but not in others. The report recommends that the case for the second interconnector should be revisited if a number of scenarios emerge.

SO WHAT HAS CHANGED?

Many of the scenarios identified by Tamblyn are now coming to fruition:

  • Early work on the Battery of the Nation project has produced modelling that is more encouraging of a second interconnector, highlighting Tasmania’s potential to deliver benefits across the national market. Early work shows the benefits from a second interconnector could outweigh the costs by $500 million.
  • The Australian Energy Market Operator’s July 2018 Integrated System Plan identified a future need for more dispatchable renewables and stronger interconnection. The ISP also recognised the the potential benefits to the national energy market from the Marinus link.
  • Early-stage preparations for a second interconnector between South Australia and the eastern states are now underway, led by Electranet. The Tamblyn report found this would be vital to making the economic case for a second Bass Strait interconnect stack up.

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

TasNetworks will provide an interim report on the feasibility of a second Bass Strait interconnector by the end of 2018, while the full feasibility and business case assessment for Project Marinus is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

Tarraleah hydropower redevelopment powers ahead

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced up to $2.5 million in funding to Hydro Tasmania to complete final feasibility analysis into the proposed redevelopment of the Tarraleah hydropower scheme in the highlands of Tasmania. The feasibility analysis is expected to cost $5.0 million in total.

If the project is found to be technically and economically feasible, the redevelopment would more than double the scheme’s capacity from 104 megawatts (MW) to 220 MW with 20 hours of storage in one cycle.

The Tarraleah scheme currently generates around 634 GWh per year of largely base load energy, providing around 6.5% of Hydro Tasmania’s annual power generation.

This next stage of work follows on from a pre-feasibility study completed earlier this year which identified and assessed options for the future of the Tarraleah scheme.

The pre-feasibility study, funded by ARENA’s initial commitment to the Battery of the Nation initiative, found that an option to expand the capacity of the Tarraleah scheme and increase its flexibility was potentially feasible. The study concluded that capacity-optimised redevelopment would provide an asset that is best placed to support a future electricity market with higher levels of variable renewable generation.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the reports into assessing options for Tasmania’s hydro assets aligned with the work being completed under the broader ‘Battery of the Nation’ initiative.

“The report helps our understanding of future development opportunities in Tasmania and how they could make a larger contribution to the National Electricity Market (NEM).”

“This full scale feasibility of the Tarraleah scheme will enable Hydro Tasmania to determine the best options in terms of cost, market value and system flexibility. Tarraleah can play an integral part in Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation initiative, setting up a blueprint for increasing the state’s renewable resources to support the future NEM.” Mr Frischknecht said.

The CEO of Hydro Tasmania, Steve Davy, said while pumped hydro and wind power attract most of the attention, getting more electricity from existing hydropower assets would also be crucial.

“We can start by finding another 116 MW from Tarraleah. This upgrade will also transform Tarraleah into Tasmania’s first truly 21st century hydropower station – adding stability and flexibility to Australia’s future clean energy market.”

About the Battery of the Nation

The Battery of the Nation initiative is setting up a blueprint for how Tasmania’s renewable resources are developed over the coming decades. With the support of ARENA, the initiative is advancing studies into projects that if realised, would lock in full energy security for Tasmania, help give Tasmanians access to the lowest possible power prices and deliver reliable, affordable renewable energy. By boosting the hydropower system with pumped hydro, with increased wind generation and more interconnection, Tasmania could also significantly grow its contribution to a future National Electricity Market (NEM).

ARENA has committed $2.5 million in funding for pre-feasibility studies to redevelop existing hydro-electric power stations at Tarraleah and Gordon, to identify and scope high potential Pumped Hydroelectric Energy Storage (PHES) sites and to explore the potential of Tasmania to play an expanded role in the NEM. ARENA has also committed $10 million to funding to TasNetworks for a feasibility study for a second interconnector.

ARENA has also committed up to a further $2.5 million in funding for the full feasibility study into the Tarraleah Scheme redevelopment to be conducted by Hydro Tasmania.

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 | media@arena.gov.au

Download this media release (PDF 126KB)

 

Old mine given new lease of life as a power plant

ARENA has thrown its weight behind a plan to turn a disused mine in South Australia into a pumped hydro plant, unlocking new value from legacy mining operations for the benefit of future generations.

Through the Australian Government, ARENA will help fund a $1.7 million feasibility study to investigate how the pit of the old Iron Duchess North mine on the Eyre Peninsula could be used as the lower reservoir of a pumped hydro plant with an estimated capacity of 90 MW and 390 MWh.

The project is being run by GFG Alliance. The first stage of the feasibility study is expected to be completed this year and if indications are positive, the plant could be in operation by 2022.

ARENA’S BACKING OF PUMPED HYDRO STORAGE

On behalf of the Australian Government, ARENA is committing $500,000 to the feasibility study, which follows the successful completion of an earlier concept study by GFG. The South Australian Government’s Renewable Technology Fund will contribute a further $500,000 to the endeavour.

Pumped hydro works by using electricity to pump water uphill when power is cheap and abundant, and then running it downhill to drive turbines when demand is high or there is a lack of wind or sun.

The gravitational potential energy stored by pumped hydro facilities can be converted back into electricity within seconds of demand on the power grid becoming apparent.

ARENA is currently funding feasibility studies into pumped hydro projects across Australia, including Snowy 2.0, Hydro Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation projects, the Kidston hybrid solar and pumped hydro project in Queensland, and Energy Australia’s proposed seawater pumped hydro project at Cultana, South Australia.

View from the top, looking down on the site for the Middleback Pumped Hydro lower reservoir. Image: GFG


GFG BETS BIG ON RENEWABLES

The GFG Alliance’s operations span over 30 countries, including Australia.

It owns the disused Iron Duchess North mine, which is located in the Middleback Ranges. The region has been a source of iron ore for over a century, particularly to feed the nearby Whyalla Steelworks, which GFG purchased in 2017.

The pumped hydro feasibility study will be conducted by local South Australian company SIMEC ZEN Energy, which also became part of GFG in 2017.

GFG chairman Sanjeev Gupta believes lower power prices are the missing ingredient needed to spark an industrial renaissance in Australia, and he has committed to building 1GW of solar energy and energy storage capacity in South Australia.

“The cost of solar and wind is rapidly declining globally with the evolution of technology and economies of scale,’’ Mr Gupta said.

WAY OF THE FUTURE

ARENA CEO Mr Ivor Frischknecht said sunny, windy South Australia had ideal resources to support large-scale renewable generation.

“As a result there is now a lot of interest in opportunities for large-scale energy storage options, as we know there will be a need to harness and store this capacity so it is available at all times,’’ said Mr Frischknecht.

“We are excited to explore the potential of old mining assets being turned into renewable energy storage which can provide dispatchable and reliable power to support our future energy system.’’

Geoff Titus, CEO of feasibility study leader ZEN Energy, said the project would offer many benefits for the company and local residents.

“We thank ARENA for their support to this important project,’’ said Titus.

“This unique pumped hydro storage project is a great opportunity for ZEN Energy to obtain real-world insights and apply the learnings to offer expert energy contracting solutions to customers seeking secure, affordable and low-emission energy to transition through their current energy challenges.’’

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South Australia’s Iron Duchess mine could be given new life as 90MW pumped hydro plant

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has today announced its support of a feasibility study to assess the potential to turn a mothballed mine in South Australia into a 90MW pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) plant.

On behalf of the Australian Government, ARENA is committing $500,000 to GFG Alliance to begin the first phase of establishing the technical and commercial feasibility of bringing a disused mine site in the South Middleback Ranges, near Whyalla, back to life as a potential PHES power plant.
The $1.7 million project will investigate if the existing mine pit of “Iron Duchess North” could be utilised as a lower reservoir for a PHES plant creating an estimated capacity of 90 MW and 390 MWh of storage.

Pumped hydro works by pumping water uphill between two connected reservoirs when electricity is cheap and abundant, and running water downhill to power turbines when electricity is needed.

The first stage of feasibility is expected to be completed by late 2018. This will include high level designs, engineering studies, network studies, geotechnical investigation, market modelling and commercial evaluation.

If successful, the $170 million Middleback Ranges PHES plant could be built by 2022.

The South Australian Government announced last week that it is committing $500,000 to the feasibility study.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the feasibility study was the first stage in assessing possible sites to store South Australia’s growing renewable energy generation.

“South Australia has ideal wind and solar resources to support large scale renewable generation, so we will need energy storage options to harness and store this capacity so it is available at all times.

“We are excited to explore the potential of old mining assets being turned into renewable energy storage which can provide dispatchable and reliable power,” he said.

ARENA is also providing funding to support the Kidston hybrid solar and PHES project in a mine in Queensland, alongside feasibility studies into other pumped hydro across Australia including Snowy 2.0, Hydro Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation projects and EnergyAustralia’s proposed seawater PHES project at Cultana, South Australia.

Geoff Titus, Chief Executive Officer, SIMEC ZEN Energy said the project would offer many benefits for the company and residents.

“We thank ARENA for its support to this important project. This unique pumped hydro storage project is a great opportunity for SIMEC ZEN Energy (part of GFG Alliance) to obtain real world insights and apply the learnings to offer expert energy contracting solutions to customers seeking secure, affordable and low emission energy to transition through their current energy challenges.

“We look forward to working with Liberty Onesteel in the first instance on the benefits this project will provide, and then establishing partnerships with other large energy users across Australia seeking a new way of contracting energy for their long term success.”

About GFG Alliance

The GFG Alliance is a global group of energy, mining, metals, engineering and financial services businesses, headquartered in London, with additional hubs in Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney and a presence in around 30 countries worldwide. The Alliance, which has a global workforce of over 12,000 people, with a turnover exceeding US$10 billion, comprises integrated industrials and metals businesses under the “Liberty” banner; a mining, resources, energy and infrastructure group under “SIMEC”; Wyelands; a banking and financial services arm; JAHAMA Estates – a division that manages the Alliance’s global property development; and the GFG Foundation which works to build industrial skills. www.gfgalliance.com

 

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 | media@arena.gov.au

Download this media release (PDF 128KB)

South Australia’s Cultana Seawater Pumped Hydro plant reaches next phase

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced an additional $500,000 in funding to EnergyAustralia for the next stage of the 225 MW Cultana seawater pumped hydro plant in South Australia.

The $8 million feasibility study involves advancing the project to a final investment decision and will involve the completion of project design including geotechnical investigations and equipment specifications, environmental impact studies and grid connection works.

On behalf of the Australian Government, ARENA previously provided $453,00 for the initial feasibility study which found the proposed Spencer Gulf plant was technically viable and could generate 225 MW of electricity with 1770 MWh of storage equivalent using seawater as the storage medium.

If built, the Cultana facility would be the largest seawater pumped hydro facility ever constructed in the world, and the first in Australia. A 30 MW plant was built in Okinawa in Japan in 1999, and operated for 17 years.

The South Australian Government announced last week it is also committing $500,000 to the feasibility study.

Pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) involves pumping water uphill to a storage reservoir and releasing it through a turbine to generate electricity when it is needed. PHES not only provides large scale energy storage but also provides a wide range of ancillary services to electricity networks.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the next stage was an important step in building Australia’s first seawater pumped hydro plant.

“This pioneering project aims to build Australia’s first ever pumped hydro using seawater and could open up the potential for future seawater pumped hydro around Australia. Pumped Hydro is the most common and mature form of energy storage which has been traditionally used in rivers, but seawater has the benefit of having no impact on rivers and no need to construct lower reservoirs,” Mr Frischknecht said.

Mark Collette, EnergyAustralia Executive – Energy said Cultana would be a great achievement for pumped hydro in Australia.

“Pumped hydro is really a way of storing energy so it can be used when it’s needed, like a giant battery. Finding ways to store energy will be critical to Australia’s transition to cleaner energy so it’s great to have ARENA get behind the project with funding toward the next stage of its development.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us this year with detailed design and engineering, community engagement, environmental assessments and approvals but we’re excited about the potential for seawater pumped hydro to play an important role in Australia’s future energy mix.” Mr Collette said.

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 | media@arena.gov.au

Download this media release (PDF 124KB)

Snowy 2.0 feasibility study released

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is pleased to welcome the feasibility study for Snowy 2.0 released today.

On behalf of the Australian Government, ARENA committed $8 million in grant funding to support Snowy Hydro’s $29 million feasibility study into the pumped hydro expansion of the existing Snowy Hydro scheme.

Snowy 2.0 would deliver 2000 MW of additional dispatchable generation capacity and 350,000 MWh of storage. The construction would involve building an underground hydro-electric power station and 27 kilometres of tunnels connecting two existing reservoirs in the Snowy Mountains.

The study released today states the project is technically feasible, and estimated to cost between $3.8-4.5 billion. According to the project timeline set out in the study, Snowy 2.0 could be providing first power by late 2024.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said Snowy 2.0 would help to firm up future wind and solar generation.

“As Australia transitions to more renewables and as coal-fired power stations reach their end of life, large scale energy storage coupled with wind and solar can provide dispatchable electricity to replace baseload coal.

“This study confirms that Snowy 2.0 is an exciting renewable energy project which could play an important role in delivering security and reliability in the NEM.

“While there is some way to go, this feasibility study is encouraging,” he said.

Snowy Hydro will now undertake further work including additional geotechnical drilling, project tenders, finalising funding, and environmental and planning approval processes as the project progresses to a final investment decision in 2018.

The full feasibility study and summary can be found at snowyhydro.com.au

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 | media@arena.gov.au

Download this media release (PDF 143KB)

ARENA launches $20 million hydrogen funding round

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) today announced a $20 million funding round for early stage research and development into hydrogen to propel innovation in exporting renewable energy.

The funding round is the first time ARENA has sought applications from the research sector and organisations involved in the hydrogen energy creation and supply chain.

Hydrogen – or carriers, like ammonia – are potentially a way for Australia to export  renewable energy. Electrical energy can readily be converted into hydrogen via electrolysis.

Hydrogen production, conversion to a carrier for transport, storage or export, and transformation into energy at point-of-use are all stages of the supply chain that have significant scope for cost reductions on hydrogen production.

In September, ARENA ran a Request for Information (RFI) and received 45 responses from a range of organisations and individuals with information on the renewable production of hydrogen, hydrogen fuel carriers and supply chains in Australia that make use of a carrier material to transport renewable fuel.

ARENA Chief Executive Officer Ivor Frischknecht said this funding round follows the response to our RFI which showed the potential for hydrogen in the global market.

“Exporting renewable energy is one of ARENA’s priorities for investment and this RFI illustrates there is great potential.

“Australia exports approximately three quarters of the energy it produces, in the form of coal and gas. Having some of the best solar and wind power resources in the world, Australia could become a superpower in exports of renewable energy, globally, leveraging existing relationships and growing global  low carbon energy demand in countries such as Japan, South Korea and China.

“Hydrogen is set to play a much larger role in the renewable energy space not only in Australia, but globally as the world moves to a low carbon economy. The potential for hydrogen to be a carrier of renewable energy is substantial, which is why ARENA will be looking to fund projects from the production of hydrogen all the way to transporting and end-use.

“The capability to supply renewable hydrogen at a competitive price is likely to lead to investment throughout the rest of the supply chain, including dedicated renewables for export.” Mr Frischknecht said.

Applications will be open from 20 December 2017 until 5pm AEDT 28 February 2018.

For further information on Hydrogen R&D funding round and to apply, visit the funding page.

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 | media@arena.gov.au

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Redeveloping and expanding Tasmania’s hydro system

Tasmania hydro system.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has today announced feasibility studies
to expand two hydro-electric power stations and explore the potential to develop
significant pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) in Tasmania currently underway.

On behalf of the Australian Government, ARENA has committed up to $2.5 million, to be
matched by Hydro Tasmania, towards Hydro Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation feasibility
studies.

Two studies will assess the feasibility of expanding and redeveloping two existing
hydro-electric power stations and identify 15 high potential PHES sites across Tasmania.
A third study focusing on expanding Tasmania’s role in supporting the National Electricity
Market, through increased pumped hydro energy storage and wind power, is being
scoped.

ARENA Chief Executive Officer Ivor Frischknecht said these studies would examine how
pumped hydro could play an expanded role in Australia’s energy mix, and help accelerate
the nation’s transition to renewable energy. ARENA is already supporting detailed
feasibility studies for Snowy Hydro 2.0, and pumped hydro projects in Spencer Gulf and
Kidston.

“These feasibility studies are the first step towards significantly upgrading or replacing
some of Tasmania’s existing power stations and introducing pumped hydro energy
storage.”

“With these projects, we could more than double Tasmania’s hydro capacity and power an
additional 500,000 households. Tasmania could play a crucial role in helping to provide
secure, reliable – and renewable – electricity for the National Energy Market,” he said.

The CEO of Hydro Tasmania, Steve Davy, said Tasmania is uniquely placed to help lead
Australia through its challenging energy transition.

“At the moment, about 80 per cent of Australia’s electricity comes from coal-fired plants
that will eventually close. Tasmania currently provides about five per cent of Australia’s
electricity.

“By boosting our hydropower system, further developing our world-class wind power, and
increasing interconnection, we could grow our contribution significantly,” he said.

“As Australia’s largest generator of renewable energy, Hydro has the skills and experience
to drive an energy future that’s clean, reliable and affordable.

Expanding pumped hydro potential in Tasmania

This two-stage concept study is exploring the potential for pumped hydro energy storage
across Tasmania, which could increase generation capacity by 2.5 gigawatts.

This initial stage – jointly funded with $300,000 from ARENA – has identified high potential
pumped hydro sites across Tasmania. Approximately 30 sites are being considered based
on technical feasibility and topography, environmental sensitivity, land use constraints,
road access and access to grid, proximity to existing renewable energy assets,
construction risks and capital costs.

The next stage will involve a full pre-feasibility assessment of 10-15 shortlisted pumped
hydro sites across Tasmania.

Tarraleah and Gordon Power Stations

With the support of ARENA, Hydro Tasmania is conducting pre-feasibility studies into the
redevelopment of the Tarraleah Power Scheme and the augmentation of the Gordon
Power Station.

The iconic Tarraleah Power Station in the Derwent Valley is more than 80 years old.

The Tarraleah redevelopment would involve building a new power station, which would
cost up to $650 million and increase the energy output by up to 200 gigawatt hours a
year.

The augmentation of the 432 MW Gordon Power Station would involve building a new
turbine at Tasmania’s largest power station. To manage environmental water flows, one
of the largest turbines is currently being run at very low efficiency. This augmentation
would allow more efficient generation from existing environmental water flows to the
Gordon River.

The initial stages of these studies, jointly funded by ARENA and Hydro Tasmania at a cost
of $1 million, will be completed by the end of the year. Based on the outcomes of the
studies, construction on augmentation of the Gordon Power Station could commence in
2018.

For further information, visit hydro.com.au/energy/battery-nation/

ARENA media contacts:

Phone: 0410 724 227 | Email: media@arena.gov.au

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Winning the uphill battle. How pumped hydro could solve the storage problem

Renewable energy is rapidly moving ahead in Australia, that much is undeniable. But storing energy for later use is the key to embedding it into a reliable national electricity supply.

That’s where pumped hydro comes in.

As wind and solar power get cheaper and other competing technologies gather credibility, the search for storage solutions is on. In that context, it can sometimes be easy to forget the solutions we’ve already found and how well they can work.

Pumped hydro, the simple concept of using excess energy to pump water up a hill and hold it there until it’s needed, has been around for a long time. It already accounts for 97 percent of energy storage worldwide and is the technology that has led to the Federal Government’s enthusiasm for a “Snowy 2.0” scheme.

Researchers at The Australian National University led by Professor Andrew Blakers recently released preliminary findings that show pumped hydro could play a massive role in the nation’s energy future. The research identifies 5000 prospective pumped hydro storage sites with the potential to store up to 15,000 GWh of energy.

 


The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is providing $449,000 to support a broader study, which aims to develop a nation-wide atlas of potential off-river pumped hydro storage sites. Once completed, the information will be shared via ARENA’s data platform AREMI.

ARENA Chief Executive Ivor Frischknecht says the project is part of the agency’s focus on supporting flexible capacity solutions to ensure a smooth transition to a renewable energy future could take place.

“Storage is becoming more important and valuable as we move towards higher levels of renewable energy in our grids,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“Pumped hydro is the most mature form of energy storage, and studies like these are helping to determine whether it could play an even greater role in increasing grid stability.”

WHAT IS ARENA DOING IN THIS AREA?

ARENA is well-positioned to provide leadership on pumped hydro in Australia because the agency is involved in a range of projects at varying points of the spectrum from research and development of new techniques and technologies to rolling out mature and commercially viable projects.

Lead times can be long in pumped hydro. Recent research out of the United States suggests development time of up to 12 years from original ideation through to commissioning of installed technology.

A disused mine pit will become a pumped hydro reservoir as part of the Kidston project. IMAGE: ARENA.

ARENA has recently funded a pumped hydro feasibility study at the Kidston solar farm in northern Queensland. The study, to which the agency contributed $4 million, aimed to assess the possibility of building a pumped hydro facility at a disused gold mine near Townsville. It is the first attempt anywhere in the world to employ disused mining pits as reservoirs for pumped storage and offers not only the potential for efficient renewable energy storage but also a way of rehabilitating mine sites that could be replicated around the world. Episode 1 of ARENA’s podcast ReWired features a visit to the proposed site for this inspiring project.

Genex, which has proposed building the facility, says its preferred design has the capacity to power 100,000 homes. The company is currently seeking backing for phase 2 of the project and hopes to begin construction in 2018.

ARENA is also investigating pumped hydro using sea water, an area that is producing growing excitement. In early 2017, EnergyAustralia and partners Arup Group and Melbourne Energy Institute were granted $453,000 in ARENA funding to carry out a feasibility study for a new pumped hydro project using sea water at a site near Port Augusta in South Australia. If the project is found to be feasible and construction goes ahead the it could produce between 100 and 250 MW of power.

THE CURRENT SITUATION

Pumped hydro is not new around the world and it has long been in Australia, but not on a massive scale. Currently, there are only three projects dotted around the nation and all have been in operation for between three and four decades.

The three plants, Tumut 3, Wivenhoe and Shoalhaven Scheme have a collective generating capacity of 2.5GW. They date from a time when pumped hydro was pursued for other benefits beyond renewable storage: operating as water management tools, providing water for irrigation of farms and household and also protecting as against flood.

How does pumped hydro work?

Off-river pumped hydro storage requires pairs of reservoirs, typically ranging from 10 to 100 hectares, in hilly terrain and joined by a pipe with a pump and turbine. Water is circulated between the upper and lower reservoirs to store and generate power.

Water is stored in an upper reservoir and run through a turbine to a lower reservoir when electricity is needed – such as when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. The water can then be pumped back uphill when electricity from renewables and other sources is abundant and cheaper (the sun is shining, wind is blowing).

Pumped hydro is proven technology and has a typical lifespan in excess of 50 years, compared to batteries, which currently last between 8 and 15 years.

WHAT ABOUT WATER LEVELS?

Pumped hydro is a closed system, the water is stored in one of two reservoirs and rainfall in all viable sites exceeds evaporation, so additional water is rarely required and is certainly far less than is used in existing coal fired power stations.

SO HOW MUCH STORAGE DO WE ACTUALLY NEED?

Total electricity consumption in Australia at the moment is around 250 TWh per year, just over 14 percent of that is from renewable energy sources. In a hypothetical 100 per cent renewable electricity market, according to Professor Blakers, we’d need approximately 450 GWh of storage capacity to ensure a stable supply.

Renewable energy is likely to rely upon a range of different technologies as it moves forwards. Wind, large scale solar and domestic PV panels are all likely to be important in ensuring a fully integrated renewable energy system.

Storage is no different. Battery farms for large scale storage, domestic batteries to support PV panels, molten salt or oil and pumped hydro will all have a role to play in supporting and enhancing the renewable energy mix.

WHERE ARE THE POTENTIAL SITES?

The ANU researchers’ preliminary report identifies 185 potential sites in South Australia, 2213 in Queensland, 2075 in Tasmania, 871 in the Canberra district and 384 in and around Alice Springs. When combined, these sites represent the capacity to produce vastly more electricity than the Australian market could ever require.

Further work is looking at more sites in NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and remaining areas of the Northern Territory, which will add greatly to the total.

All the sites identified so far are outside national parks and urban areas. Further investigation of the sites is needed to confirm there will be no environmental impacts, land ownership issues and to minimise the risk of severe weather events.

Further information about the report and its findings is available on the ANU website

Power to gas trial to inject hydrogen into Australia’s gas grid

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) today announced a trial for an innovative new type of electrolyser which could see excess renewable energy stored in the gas grid and used to decarbonise Australia’s gas supply.

On behalf of the Australian Government, ARENA has provided $5 million in funding to Wollongong-based company AquaHydrex to commercially develop its new class of electrolyser to produce cheap hydrogen from splitting water.

In partnership with Australian Gas Networks (AGN), which owns the gas distribution network in South Australia, AquaHydrex will design and build an electrolyser pilot plant to trial injecting a small amount of hydrogen into the South Australian gas grid in a process known as “power-to-gas”.

Power-to-gas involves converting electricity into hydrogen by splitting water, then injecting this into the gas grid, providing long-term energy storage and stabilisation of variable output solar and wind power.

ARENA Chief Executive Ivor Frischknecht said this demonstration is the first Australian trial to test ‘power-to-gas’ that will see hydrogen being injected into the gas network.

“Hydrogen can be injected directly into the natural gas network without modification at levels of at least 10 per cent, with some experts recently suggesting levels closer to 30 per cent are viable to supplement our gas needs. Depending on the material the gas pipeline is made out of, the network can support up to 100% hydrogen in due course, once appropriate regulatory transition and appliance modifications are implemented. When hydrogen burns, it produces only water vapour and no carbon dioxide.

“There is huge untapped potential in power-to-gas to convert surplus renewable energy to hydrogen and use our existing gas network infrastructure for long-term, safe, reliable energy storage. In the future, there will be increasing amounts of surplus renewable energy when it is sunny or windy,” Mr Frischknecht said.

AquaHydrex was developed out of research undertaken by scientists and engineers at ACES (ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials) – University of Wollongong and Monash University nodes.

AquaHydrex Managing Director Paul Barrett said the funding would bring the Australian developed innovation closer to producing cheap hydrogen at commercial scale. Storing renewable energy directly in the gas network was a logical first route to market for the invention.

“Hydrogen is an outstanding energy carrier, and has the potential to connect the electricity and natural gas grids, significantly increasing the storage capacity available for renewable electricity and helping decarbonize the natural gas grid. This renewable hydrogen also opens up the possibility to exporting renewable energy – which Australia, with its vast renewable resources, is well positioned to exploit.” he said

AGN CEO Ben Wilson has observed that in line with Energy Network Australia’s recently released Gas 2050 vision, “the volumetric potential of renewable energy stored in the Australian gas infrastructure could be as much as 6 billion household Li-ion batteries. This provides what is for all intents and purposes a ‘bottomless battery’ that is already in place and capable of storing and transporting vast amounts of time-shifted renewable energy.”

ABOUT AQUAHYDREX

AquaHydrex Pty Ltd has recently developed a new class of water electrolyzer whose capital and operational cost, and high energy-efficiency makes the conversion of (excess renewable) electrons into hydrogen, commercially attractive. AquaHydrex was founded in 2012, based on foundation IP developed at ACES (ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials) – University of Wollongong and Monash University nodes.

ABOUT AGN

AGN is one of Australia’s largest natural gas distribution companies. They own approximately 25,000 kilometres of natural gas distribution networks and 1,100 kilometres of natural gas pipelines, serving over 1.2 million consumers in South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory. AGN’s role in the energy chain is to transport natural gas to customers for retailers.

 

ARENA media contacts:

Phone: 0410 724 227 | Email: media@arena.gov.au

Media release – AquahHydrex Hydrogen To Gas ARENA Media Release Final (PDF 305 KB)