The Newton Project


Pumped hydro-energy storage: the missing link?


The need for low carbon energy technologies and indigenous energy provision is confirmed both on European as on a regional level. Implementing feed-inn tariffs and/or green certificate support schemes in different European markets has lead to a drastic reduction of the cost-of-energy of photovoltaic and wind technologies. However in order for these intermittent renewable energy technologies to contribute significantly to the challenges mentioned above, their integration in existing and new electricity grid infrastructure should be addressed by new technology and new business model implementations.

It is a general belief that energy storage will take an important part in the transition of our electricity infrastructure to adapt to the absorption of intermittent renewable energies. A variety of energy storage solutions compete with each, ranging from mechanical, thermal and chemical solutions, ranging from very decentralized, close to the ‘prosumer’, to centralized, close to power generation. Pumped storage hydro-electricity has been identified as a potentially cost-effective solution for the above mentioned challenges.
Pumped hydro storage is a well-known and robust technology building on existing technology blocks. Over 50 installations of above 1 GW have been built all over the world and 13 installations are under construction. These installations mainly support transmission grid stability and have been designed under different technical and economic conditions.

Linking pumped hydro storage to intermittent renewables can remove the barrier for grid integration of solar and wind power. 2 typical use cases have been identified:

  • Energy islandsOffshore wind and marine (blue) energy production is high on the roadmap of the European regions in order to produce renewable, low-carbon indigenous energy, however the technology is facing grid integration issues because of its intermittency and the fact that the existing grid infrastructure has not been designed in view of this. Energy islands, applying pumped hydro storage, are brought forward as a solution to enable more cost-efficient grid integration.
  • Hybrid grids and stand-alone renewable energy systems: Recent cost decrease in solar and wind technologies, have made it cost-effective to use them to fulfill the increasing energy demand in remote developing areas. Remote industrial and urban zonings, harbors or mining sites are either connected to a weak unreliable local electricity grid, or they do not have access to an existing grid infrastructure. Combining pumped hydro storage with solar and wind can bring a fully renewable and cost-effective energy solution to these energy demands.

For both of these use cases however, an integrated cost model is non existing. Lacking such an integrated model, hinders opportunity assessment and business development for this renewable energy solution. Within this project we will develop such an integrated model. The leverage effect of such a tool should not to be underestimated. Certainly in energy exporting countries, governments are increasingly looking for solutions for optimization. This will lead to further valorization in Flanders as there is indeed a lot of expertise in the area of offshore marine energy generation, from DEME to companies specializing in energy management, such as 3E.

3E presented this project at the Belgian i-Cleantech festival in Bruges on the 13th of November. You can view the video of the event right here (only in Dutch):