Pumped hydro storage has taken a step closer to helping resolve constraints in the NSW energy market with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s decision to provide $951,000 to Oven Mountain Pumped Storage to undertake a study analysing the benefits it would offer to the New England Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) in northern NSW.

Oven Mountain is proposing a 600MW/7,200MWh pumped hydro energy storage facility between Armidale and Kempsey to provide system-wide benefits, by storing and enabling variable renewable energy generation, improving system strength, unlocking network constraints and helping to reduce marginal loss factors.

The study will examine the degree to which the proposed PHES plant could unlock further renewable energy investment and the development of the proposed New England REZ, a region that has characteristics that could make a substantial contribution to increasing the supply of renewable energy such as having excellent wind and sun conditions.

Oven Mountain says the proposed site is an ideal location for pumped hydro due to its steep topography, high hydrological head and the short distance between two reservoirs. If built, the proposed plant could provide system strength to the wind and solar farms in the New England area, provide rapid grid power response and meet requirements during peak demand.

Benefits will flow

AEMO’s draft 2020 Integrated System Plan forecasts Australia’s generation to be dominated by large-scale solar PV and wind by 2040, which requires new flexible and dispatchable technologies to ensure Australians have access to reliable electricity when and where it is needed.

“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,” said ARENA CEO Darren Miller.

“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.”

Oven Mountain Pumped Storage director Dr Jeremy Moon said the New England REZ sits close to the border of NSW and Queensland and its abundance of renewable resources places it strategically between the two states. “Pumped hydro technology evolution can support Australia’s generation transition,” Dr Moon said. “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.”

Alinta Energy has partnered with Oven Mountain Pumped Storage in the $2.2 million study.