Storing Power



Terence Cardwell

There has been so much talk and false information about Hydro Electric Power Stations, pump storage and System battery storage that I felt it was time to put the record straight.

Some of the most incorrect and misleading information is from self-appointed experts who have made all sorts of ridiculous statements, as well as from some politicians who either live in fairy land or are deliberately lying. You decide.

Without doubt the Snowy Mountain Hydro Electric Scheme is the greatest project Australia has ever undertaken. A magnificent project that the governments of today would be incapable of matching. Why? Because they lack the vision, the courage and the foresight to plan and create such a project. The money that should be put into this type of project being wasted on almost useless Wind and Solar Farm subsidies.

Prior to the Snowy scheme’s construction nearly all the water from the Snowy Mountains in the Australian Alps flowed down through mountainous and almost uninhabited country until discharging onto the river flats of East Gippsland. It flowed, wasted, into the sea, while the inland regions of NSW on the inland side of the Australian Alps desperately required water for irrigation.

After a great deal of planning the Snowy River Scheme was created with primary purpose of turning the waters inland as well as maintain a flow to the Snowy River. The ability to generate hydro-electricity was a major bonus to the original plan.

Water from melting snow and rainfall flows into the Snowy River and its tributaries at high elevations and is diverted inland to the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers irrigation areas. It flows through two major tunnel systems driven through the Continental Divide of the Snowy Mountains. The water falls 800 metres and travels through large hydro-electric power stations which generate power, generally for peak-load, for New South Wales (two thirds) and Victoria (one third) and small amount for the ACT. The total installed capacity is 3.772 Gigawatts. 

The added bonus of the Hydro electric generators is; They not only made it possible to supply cheap power for the states but also enabled load-sharing of the spinning reserve of the power supply grid system. Hydro Electric generators can be run up to full load in two minutes. No expansion problems, no fuel feed problems, just a quiet smooth run up to synchronise and then to full load if required.

Also the lower Hydro stations can run three of their generators in reverse and (when available) pump the water back up to the higher levels. But this does not come free and requires 25% more power than they would generate. However this is offset by the improved efficiency of the thermal coal fired power stations supplying the power. When demand is low in the early mornings power is supplied to the Snowy Hydro units to pump the water back up to higher level allowing the thermal power station to operate under optimal conditions, i.e. by increasing the unit load the efficiency is increased and that gain is offset against the 25% loss of pumping the water back up. This can reduce the overall loss to as low as 12% approx..

Pumped Hydro has always existed at the Snowy but it is only available when the water is available and that is after snow melt or rainfall. By mid to late summer there is little to spare.

The idea that pumped Hydro is some sort of new saviour is Green day-dreaming. Ultimately the power to be stored still has to come from thermal power stations. Without them there would be no power to drive the Hydro pump/generators. And there must be sufficient water or snow falling on the Snowy mountains to be able to do it.

Increasing the storage capacity may make a slight improvement but knocking down the Thermal power Stations without building replacement new ones is insane to say the least.  The grid system must always have a spinning reserve of 20% of load. This has now gone and the power supply companies have moved us much closer to blackouts and power failures that most certainly will soon be occurring in South Australia and Victoria.

Instead of wasting so many billions of dollars on unreliable Wind generators and solar farms, the State and Federal governments could build the latest high efficiency, low emission (HELE) power stations of say 4 x 660 Megawatts for two billion dollars each.

The idea of building battery storage instead is ludicrous.

The battery bank storage proposed for S.A. will draw power from the grid to charge the batteries. It will supply less than 100 Megawatts for ONE HOUR. For much the same construction cost a thermal generator with 4 x 660 Megawatt generators could supply 2600 Megawatts indefinitely.

Environmental zealots say that “coal is finished”. In fact there are over 700 coal-fired power stations being built right now in India, China, USA, Europe and South America.

The People of Australia may start to listen when they are sitting in the dark with no power for their employment or business. Maybe then it might sink in that they have been lied to.

One tip I can give to residents in the southern states is to buy a 5 Kilowatt portable generator. There is every possibility you will need it.

Terence Cardwell was with the Electricity Commission of N.S.W. for 26 years in a number of positions including the commissioning and in charge of the Coal Fired Thermal Generators at Tallawarra, Wallerawang and Munmorah Power Stations. His last commission was at the Munmorah Power Station near Newcastle, with four, very large, 350 MW power generating units.

Admin 23/10/19

There is an excellent post on Judith Curry’s blog Climate Etc: Reflections on Energy Blogging

10 Replies to “Storing Power”

  1. I totally agree. The only benefit of pumped storage is when the energy required to pump is supplied from other sources, like windmills at night. The rest is a pipedream dreamt up by scientifically illiterate politicians and dishonest pedlars.

  2. I forgot to add that this green madness will only end when the lights go out. There is nothing more persuasive to the public than perpetual blackouts. The pollies will get deserved retribution then.

  3. Thank you. Well said.
    I would add: batteries of the size discussed do little more than buffer the edges of the spikes caused by renewable’s intermittency. Essentially you need one at each wind and solar farm to tame it. They are not of significant load shifting size, just an added hidden cost of renewables.
    Further; baseload and pumped storage cycles on a predictable 24 hrs as a peak shaving device. Such a regime for renewables needs to be of a size to store days and weeks worth of energy demand and be powerful enough to carry the entire load of the aim is 100% renewables. Subsequently, the installed capacity of the renewable fleet would need to be doubled to allow for recharge whilst supporting load. This means a vast redundant storage and power infrastructure investment, easily an order of magnitude greater than a baseload scheme.

  4. Yet the thought of Adani starting up the largest coal mine in the world in Queensland is horrifying. Global warming must be addressed. What we need is a prize for technology which solves the problem of climate change without impacting the reliability or cost of electricity. I have sent a document defining this prize under separate cover.

    1. Been there. Done that. See: Ecofluidics

      No-one was interested. Climate change is about guilt and redemption. It is not about solving problems.

    2. Adani coal mine will no more effect on our climate than any other coal mine in the WORLD. There is not one shred of PROOF the our climate is affected by man. Yes there are failed modelling and remodelling, predictions and deliberately distorted graph and false figures that have been recently proven to be lies and with the other lies. CO2 has never been proven to be any more of a thermal insulator than many other gases. Australia’s CO2 emissions per year causes the WORLD’s CO2 to increase by .00000016 of one percent. The total CO2 World emissions 00001056 of ONE percent.
      Nature CO2 emissions is 25 time that but it is man that is causing Climate change. You don’t need a science degree to work out the simple mathematics. At the moment there is over 700 Coal Fired Power Stations being built throughout the World and more to follow.

  5. What a bunch of apocalyptic nonsense. Not, I hasten to add the figures or that pumped hydro is a furphy. But the screamingly obvious is that we have arrived at this position because conservative policy makers and lobbyists have refused to acknowledge climate change and the need to switch away from coal. For the last ten years the world has moved on, but dinasours like yourselves (and the Luddites establishing coal-power schemes overseas), are fighting a last ditch campaign that has left us short nationally. The SA scheme only 100 Mw! But you failed to emphasise that it is planned to be used as a battery in combination with nearby solar and wind resources. It’s a new technology, sure, but let’s see what some bright kids can do with it when the’re allowed some rein.

    1. Tim,
      The 100MW/100MWh battery system is coupled to a 325MW wind farm. It will store 20min of the wind farm in full flight. The State of SA contributed some $50mil to have access to it for grid stabilization. In the mean time have a think about the business model that will pay for it. This hasnt been made very clear in the press nor in the Finkel Report but I’m guessing there’s a CET type subsidy that will flow. The cost of ownership of commercial batteries of this type in California are in the order of 25c/kWh, or $250/MWh (not counting cost of charging). The math is simple.

  6. I couldn’t agree more. These green solutions are abominations, ridge lines cluttered with windmills, acres of ground space covered with glinting panels and for what? This ancient technology cannot supply base industrial load and cannot guarantee continuity of supply. So is burning coal the answer? In the short term yes, but we as an intelligent race can surely devise more elegant solutions like using the vast resources of heat residing under the earth’s crust or Thorium based reactors.

  7. I agree completely, it is insane to believe that solar or wind or can possibly generate enough power. Sadly we are fed with a lot of misinformation, thank goodness we have people such as Terence Cardwell please keep standing up and talking Terence!!
    Politicians are only interested in retaining their seats and therefor votes are need so they are following these so called alternative power sources because they believe they are popular but wait until we all get our electricity bills, or try to run business’s that employ people and need power at sensible rates, or just wait and enjoy the romantic nights that will arrive with candle light !

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