Could Hydro Storage Prime the Pump for Renewables?

A project team from GE Research and GE Energy Consulting, supported by GE Renewable Energy’s hydro teams, has been awarded $1.25 MM in funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office to evaluate the long-term benefits and economics of pumped storage hydropower (PSH) to provide flexibility, system stability and reliability services to the grid. These services can enable high penetrations of variable renewables such as wind and solar.


PSH stores energy by pumping water up into a reservoir. When power is needed, the water is released from the reservoir and runs through hydro turbines that convert the flowing water into electricity. When paired with a wind and/or solar farm, the idea is that you could utilize excess power generated from these renewable installations to drive a pump that pushes water up into the PSH reservoir. Once in the reservoir, this energy can be released whenever it is needed most to supplement a grid’s overall power needs.


“Can PSH prime the pump to enable more renewables?” said Yazhou Jiang, Ph.D., a Power Systems Engineer leading the project from GE Research. “This is a central question we’re asking as part of our DOE-supported study. It’s part of a mix of promising storage solutions that are emerging to meet the needs of a fast- changing energy landscape.


Jiang added, “With future energy trends pointing to a more renewables intensive, distributed energy mix, we believe PSH could represent a viable storage alternative for wind or solar- heavy grid portfolios that exhibit high degrees of variability.  For this study, we will examine just how viable PSH could be as a long-term solution. One of the factors we will examine very closely is how quickly it can be activated to respond to rapidly changing power loads and highly variable renewables.”


Last year, GE launched the Reservoir, a 1.2 MW, 4MWh unit modular, scalable platform with GE’s unique digital tools that can deliver a suite of customized energy solutions. It can work together well with renewable installations, traditional power installations and be integrated into other parts of the grid as well. PSH is another storage platform that could be the ideal pairing with existing or potentially new renewables installations located close to existing hydro facilities. And like the Reservoir, new digital tools could be integrated at the Edge to optimize their management.


“We’re testing the hypothesis that at high levels of wind and solar, you will need a storage portfolio,” shared Debra Lew, Senior Technical Director, GE Energy Consulting. “This project will help to value the benefits of pumped storage hydro to the grid that are currently not well understood.”


As the world marks Earth Day this week, this study will be looking at the viability of connecting three of nature’s key energy generation sources in different combinations.  Currently, 7% of the power in United States is generated at hydro facilities located across the country. While the primary expectation is that PSH could be an enabler for new wind and solar power installations, it could result in the growth of existing hydro facilities as well … in all cases bringing new renewable-energy on the grid. This will all be evaluated as part of the study, which will be completed over the next 17 months.