We’re quite excited because one of our Arup Research projects from almost four years ago is on the verge of lighting up South Australia. The Cultana pumped hydro storage plant, proposed to be built along the Northern end of Spencer Gulf, is set not only to be the second ever seawater storage plant but also the largest in the world.
Unlike most hydroelectricity projects, pumped hydro does not rely on rivers or naturally flowing water. Instead, it acts as a giant battery. Water is pumped from a lower reservoir to a higher one when energy is cheap. Once there’s a surge in price or demand, it is then run back down and through a turbine. Since the water can be reused, it a relatively clean method of storage.
We began researching the technology in partnership with the Melbourne Energy Institute in 2013. While fresh water pumped hydro has been used for decades in the United States, Japan and China, it is neither appropriate nor feasible for dry Australian summers when household energy demand is high.
Prior to Energy Australia announcing the Spencer Gulf project on February 21st, 2017, we worked with them on another 12 month investigation surrounding the use of seawater, once again in partnership with Melbourne Energy Institute. The Spencer Gulf site was selected because it offers 300 meters of elevation and is only 2km offshore, close to the high voltage transmission lines that run along the coast.
We are currently completing a feasibility study on the Spencer Gulf project. If the project is feasible, it could be providing peak power to the grid in another two and a half years. The plant is projected to have the capacity to produce around 100 megawatts of electricity with six-to-eight hours of storage capacity. It may not draw as much publicity as Elon Musk but it is the equivalent of roughly 60,000 home battery storage systems. It's also cleaner, more reliable and about one-third of that cost.
This story was written by Jeff McAllister, as part of the Research Review. This series is produced by the Arup Australasia Research team; Alex Sinickas, Bree Trevena and Jeff McAllister with contributions from Sheda and Noel Smyth.
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