Chris Barfoot* on Pumped Hydro

My name is Chris Barfoot and I am a board member of the Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCNN). I was asked to write a short blog on pumped hydro and its opportunities.

But first I want to congratulate all involved in East Gippsland. In my short time dealing with the region I have been amazed at the level of innovation and passion displayed towards changing the future. If I can play a small part in helping it progress further I will be honoured.

Anyway, pumped hydro. This is a concept going back many years. Put simply when you have excess power you use it to pump water to a higher storage place and then when you need power (no wind or sun) you release the water back to the lower point via a turbine to make energy.

This is the fundamental systems used throughout the existing Snowy scheme, Tasmania and of course the famous Snowy 2.0.

It is becoming more popular as the need to back up renewables with storage is being recognised. Some examples have been built using tanks alongside wind turbines (Chile) and more recently there has been a trend to trying to use seawater and an inland dam where wind turbines are based on the coast.

At present pumped hydro is an economic option that can be considered. However the fundamental fact is that you are changing your energy from electricity to pumping and back to electricity. This means you will lose about 20% of your power in these changes of state. So in the longer term as the pricing drops batteries or capacitors are more likely to be the best option.

But one place where it make a lot of sense is where there are existing dams and structures for example in an old mine site. Here you already have the lower reservoir and the cost of construction can be significantly lowered by reuse of these sites. Such systems have been proposed for some the Latrobe Valley mines. Are there any opportunities out East?

*Chris worked in the power industry for 33 years as a scientist, engineer and project manager. He retired with the close of Hazelwood and welcomes the opportunity to work with the renewable energy sector.