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What is hydropower?

Hydropower converts the energy of moving water into electricity. It includes a number of generation and storage technologies, predominantly hydroelectricity and pumped hydro energy storage (PHES). Hydropower is one of the oldest and most mature energy technologies, and has been used in various forms for thousands of years.

Hydropower now provides some level of electricity generation in more than 160 countries.

How is hydroelectricity produced?

Hydroelectricity is produced by passing water, usually from a reservoir or dam, through an electricity generator known as a turbine. As the water passes through the turbine blades, it drives the generator to convert the motion into electrical energy.

How does it work?

PHES uses water reservoirs as a way of storing energy. Excess energy, either from the grid or a renewable energy source such as a wind or solar farm, can be used during low demand periods to pump water from a lower dam to a higher one, essentially converting the upper reservoir into a giant battery.

The stored energy can then be released by returning the water through a hydroelectric turbine into the lower reservoir. Hydroelectricity can be generated almost immediately and at any time, making it possible for the power to be fed into the grid when it is needed, to help reduce surges, avoid blackouts, or meet spikes in electricity demand.

PHES can also produce large amounts of electricity over a long duration.

Hydropower in Australia

Hydroelectricity has been providing around 5-7 per cent of Australia’s total electricity supply for decades. It is currently the largest source of renewable energy in Australia, accounting for around 40 per cent of the nation’s renewable energy in 2017.

There are over 100 operating hydroelectric power stations in Australia, large and small, mostly located in south eastern Australia.The most well known of these is the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. There are also three major PHES systems connected to the national electricity grid.

In the future there may be some growth in the use of mini hydro schemes in Australia, which can be run ‘off-river’ with no dam or water storage. Decommissioned mining pits are also an opportunity for water reservoir sites.

ARENA action

ARENA’s purpose is to accelerate Australia’s shift to affordable and reliable renewable energy. By connecting investment, knowledge and people to deliver energy innovation, we are helping to build the foundation of a renewable energy ecosystem in Australia.

ARENA has identified that PHES will play a significant role in helping Australia transition to renewable energy, and is funding a range of projects to further develop the technology. Read more about ARENA’s support for PHES: Will pumped hydro unlock the transition to renewables?

> Explore the pumped hydro/hydro power energy storage projects supported by ARENA

Knowledge Sharing

ARENA shares knowledge, insights and data from our funded projects to help the renewable energy industry and other projects learn from each other’s experiences. Our projects capture high-quality quantitative and qualitative data and information, linked with the needs of the market, while respecting our recipients’ commercial and contractual rights.

Reports from our pumped hydro/hydro power energy storage projects can be found in the ARENA Knowledge Bank.

Last updated 25 June 2019
Last updated
25 June 2019


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