The Hunter's heights and holes are a good hydro fit

IT takes a fair bit to get an engineer to admit he or she is excited.

But Australian National University engineer Matthew Stokes was happy to agree that was the best word to describe how he felt while talking about the possibilities for off-river pumped hydro storage in Australia.

The university released a study on Thursday identifying 22,000 sites around Australia where pumped hydro plants could be established, with linked reservoirs in lower and upper locations of between 10 and 100 hectares.

While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Snowy 2.0 has captured the limelight, it’s quite possible a smaller Hunter pumped hydro project could be up and running much sooner than an extension of the iconic Snowy scheme.

Certainly AGL has flagged pumped hydro is in the mix for the alternative energy proposal it has committed to deliver to the Federal Government in response to pressure to keep Liddell power station open beyond 2022.

It has been estimated that a system comprising twin 10-hectare reservoirs, each 30 m deep, with a 750 metre elevation difference, can deliver about 1000 megawatts for five hours. Possibly up to 40 of these systems could stabilise a 100 per cent renewable Australian electricity system.

The cost of a pumped hydro storage system is not in the reservoirs but in the power components such as pipes, pumps, turbines, transformers and transmission.

Estimates put the cost of an off-river system at a good site at possibly $1000 per kilowatt of installed capacity.

The cost of using pumped hydro storage to smooth out the peaks in output from a solar power station is estimated to add 25 per cent to the cost, which is considerably cheaper than using batteries.

A day before the ANU study’s release, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Rod Sims sounded a warning about another worrying aspect of our energy troubles – that the price of gas was having a disastrous impact on Australian business.

It was just one of a series of issues associated with energy, with affordability “an obvious political imperative”, Mr Sims said.

It has taken years of inaction for Australia to reach this point, but the ANU study shows how a sense of urgency can stimulate innovative responses.

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