Sunday, June 02, 2019

Down with pumped hydro storage, Up with dispatchable hydropower!

So here's the post in a single paragraph: dispatchable hydropower is a massive and mostly unused power storage solution available today to solve the problem of power variability from wind and solar. The claim that power storage is technically infeasible is wrong. There would be an economic cost but it's manageable and getting smaller. Environmental issues could also be addressed, especially because power can be dispatched without turning rivers off. Maybe I'm missing something, but pumped hydro storage seems like just a small part of a bigger solution.

My blogpost headline is a tiny bit exaggerated for effect. I have nothing against pumped hydro storage, it's currently the biggest and most cost-efficient form of energy storage, and it'll be some years before electric batteries will overtake them.


Pumped storage might be biggest current storage of power, but it's barely a footnote compared to total hydropower generation. Part of the problem for pumped hydro is that it's difficult to scale because you need a place to put decent sized reservoirs (or maybe two reservoirs, one uphill and one downhill) and you need to construct those reservoirs.

The other reason the description of biggest for current pumped storage might belong in scare quotes is that it's a footnote compared to the need for storage in a sustainable system that doesn't use coal or natural gas.

So what isn't a footnote? Hydropower, generating 16% of the world's electricity. If we stored and released hydropower to make up for the variability of wind and solar that will be the predominant energy sources in 20 years or so, then we'd have a large part of the variability problem solved.

The problem is that hydropower is currently used almost exclusively for baseload and high-demand power instead of dispatch, something that is done almost exclusively for economic reasons. The reasons are understandable - hydropower is some of the cheapest available power and the vast majority of the cost is initial construction while the fuel source is free. So the more power you produce as quickly as possible, the more quickly you can pay back the loans you took out to construct the dam and start earning a profit. To the extent you hold back on power generation, you only do that so you can maximize production during parts of the day when demand and price is the highest.

So okay, but if we have other concerns like not frying the planet, then maybe that should direct when we use the most hydropower and have it happen when wind and solar are not enough. When wind and solar are 50% - 70% of your annual power mix, you still call on those energy sources first on a daily basis and let the water get stored in your reservoir. At night and other low-wind time periods, you let the water out. The storage is so immense I believe it could even cover seasonal issues like the low availability of solar power in high latitude winters.

The economic cost AFAICT is substituting solar and wind power for your very cheap hydropower for baseline and some high-demand power. You still would be able to sell most (not all) of that hydropower but maybe not at as good a price. Yes, there's a cost differential, but it's getting smaller all the time as renewables constantly get cheaper, and again it shows that the storage issue isn't technologically impossible.

Obviously you can't turn a river off and on below a dam, but the flow level already varies quite a bit on a daily basis just for power generation reasons, on the order of 50% or more. Dispatchable hydropower would change why daily flow levels change, but not the fact that daily flow levels already change. Afterbays and dams discharging into still water sections also keep the river from running dry.

Add long distance transmission, less-variable offshore wind, other sources like geothermal and biomass, electric battery, and maybe a little natural gas plus CCS, and it's a sustainable system. Biomass plus CCS gets us to negative carbon emissions.

Maybe I'm missing something. One reason we're not doing this now is we don't need to - there's not enough solar and wind power to make variability a real issue. It will be someday though. Maybe the experts assume hydropower will be dispatchable instead of baseload, but that's not clear to me, nor is it clear why pumped hydropower would get the attention it does.

I do see hybrid systems between pumped storage and traditional hydropower currently happening, like pump-back hydroelectric dams where water released below a dam is pumped back up during periods of extra or low-cost electricity. In Southern California, two existing dams uphill and downhill from each other allow for pumped storage. I imagine this could happen in a lot of places, although it might be even easier to just not release water from the upper reservoir rather than pump it back up, assuming the upper reservoir is not an off-stream reservoir. Maybe these hybrid systems are a transition that will get us to using hydropower more consistently as a backup for wind and solar.

34 comments:

Everett F Sargent said...

Poe?

Return to Mark Jacobson's Home Page
http://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/WWS-50-USState-plans.html
http://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/

Not necessarily buying what Jacobson is selling, but he has been there done that for at least a decade or so, WWS.

Arthur said...

Yes this is exactly what Jacobson has proposed with “wind-water-solar”. The main issue is to cover all energy needs we need to scale up the total electric supply quite a lot, so current capacity isn’t really enough. Also if hydro is only going to run a small fraction of the time you need to replace the generators and probably some of the water flow structures to allow for much higher intermittent output. And drought years can mean your storage option goes away. So pumped hydro could be more reliable and flexible, being built for the purpose. But yes some hybrid of both is likely the best option.

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

Existing efforts to harvest floating Plastic debris from the oceans could add a new dimension to Brian's project. The mountains of disposable coffee cup styrofoam in the North Pacific could be recycled into light-weight portable dams to create a new generation of portable hydropower., whose energy could by converted into hydrogen. The lighter than air gas could then be allowed to flow uphill at zero energy cost to mountain areas suffering from drought, wher it could be burned to create water to fill empty high-altitude dams, and establish a new, construction job-rich circular disposable dam economy in accordance with the highest principles of the GND.

Canman said...

Jacobsons's PNAS 100% WWS (Wind Water Solar) paper was debunked by the Clack et al response paper:

https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/114/26/6722.full.pdf

Jacobson required an order of magnitude more hydro generating capacity than exists, eventually claiming he assumed more generators could be added to existing dams.

There's not enough hydro for renewable energy storage and I don't think experts like Clack have missed any subtle nuance.

David B. Benson said...

As to how much pumped hydro would be required, see the last several posts by the late Roger Andrews on the Energy Matters blog. As it is, these are boutique solutions.

Of course, hydropower is only available in some localities. See various online resources from Northwest Power & Conservation Council, the planning arm of the Bonneville Power Administration, for the Pacific Northwest where we obtain about half our power from hydro.

Brian Schmidt said...

Thanks Everett, I'll go back and look at Jacobson. I think it's distinguishable but it's been a while. And I'm not trying to kill nuclear, for one thing, although I don't see it expanding either.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

There's also "gravity storage," where instead of building new dams or reservoirs, you build train tracks and run trains uphill for the potential energy. I assume they would be electric trains, of course.

David B. Benson said...

Yes, there was and maybe still is a demonstrator in California. However, nothing has been reported for years suggesting a lack of economic viability.

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

Brian should lobby DOE to https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2019/06/the-uphill-fight-for-disposable-dispatch.html"> develop double action Escher Turbines, whose water wheels are given added impetus by an upward flow of bouyant hydrogen, as well as a downward fall of water.

https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2019/06/the-uphill-fight-for-disposable-dispatch.html

Canman said...

Brian, you should be wary of anything Mark Jacobson writes on energy. He's delusional and his energy plans amount to little more than putting numbers into a spreadsheet, which results in absurd numbers of things that can not and will not be built. If you're going to read his stuff, you should at least check out some of his critics work, like the Clack paper, Blair King's posts (https://achemistinlangley.net/?s=jacobson) or my favorite:

https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/08/27/scientific-american-sokalized/

Jim Eager said...

For an example installation see:

Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant (Lewiston, NY side)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Moses_Niagara_Power_Plant

and
Sir Adam Beck Generating station (Queenston Heights, ON side)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Adam_Beck_Hydroelectric_Generating_Stations

Google Maps:
https://www.google.com/maps/@43.1464717,-79.0374113,8138m/data=!3m1!1e3

Supernaut said...

Interesting; yes hydropower could be part of the solution for baseload energy. I believe electricity production in small countries like Uruguay and Costa Rica is in fact mainly powered by hydro. Of course, like everything else, hydro does have its problems. I second what Canman mentioned about Z-Jacobson.

Luke said...

I think this is where Snowy Hydro (government owned) plays in the market here in Australia: mostly dispatchable / when needed, rather than as baseload. Not sure why but I think a) not enough water to run as baseload b) it’s their optimal strategy for revenue in the National Electricity Market. Worth more when solar/wind output is low or creaking old coal-fired plants fail in the heat. So I’d say price signals can make this shift happen. They are now ramping up an expansion into more _pumped_ hydro.

PhilScadden said...

We have been this for years in NZ and "managed" through the spot market with some risk trading agreements between generators. For some detail. Not perfect - when dams are full and spilling, then hydros just generate flat out and push everyone else out of the market. But with some reservoir capacity, they can hold back water when wind/solar are pushing down the price and generate again when they cant for a better price. The big risk is the NZ system is a dry winter eg 2008 where spot prices rose over $200/MWh. However, the system has got better with prediction and management and the dry of 2017 didnt cause too many problems.

Fernando Leanme said...

However, here in Spain hydropower is used almost exclusively to balance solar and wind intermittency. There is also a pumped storage system using off peak surplus. However, the green lobbies wont allow more reservoir capacity construction, and there's no way for the system to work properly if the current left wing regime proceeds with its nutty ideas, like more solar subsidies and nuclear plant closures. The only way this could be remedied would be by the slow down of the economy caused by socialist measures, such as rent controls, higher taxes, increased government hand outs, etc.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Canman puts down Mark Jacobson and cites... WattsUpWithThat.

And he calls Jacobson "delusional."

Barton Paul Levenson said...

FL: there's no way for the system to work properly if the current left wing regime proceeds with its nutty ideas, like more solar subsidies and nuclear plant closures. The only way this could be remedied would be by the slow down of the economy caused by socialist measures, such as rent controls, higher taxes, increased government hand outs, etc.

BPL: Because the only true enemy is SOCIALISM SOCIALISM SOCIALISM!!!

Jim Eager said...

For Fernando it's all about the left wing bogeyman, 24/7.

Meanwhile, in other breaking news: Generalissimo Francisco Francois is still dead.

Johnny Vector said...

Not only does Canman cite WUWT, he links to a PDF of Clack et al, rather than the online publication (https://www.pnas.org/content/114/26/6722), where you can see that there is a reply to Clack et al addressing the concerns it raises

Aside from some major misinterpretations of Jacobson et al, I was struck by the repeated reference to scenario choices as modeling errors. "They exclude nuclear power!!! How dare they!" This isn't a congressional bill, people. It's a scenario that we're looking at to see if it's technically possible.

Old_salt said...

Any large-scale renewable solution (or nonrenewable) will also have negative environmental impacts. Witness salmon and the Columbia River. From the power perspective using hydro power to smooth out intermittency is a good solution, from a river perspective it tends to make random flow changes. What is the effect on the rivers?

Canman said...

BPL, about my putting down Jacobson and citing WUWT. I made it a point that I was specifically criticizing Jacobson's energy work. He is reputed to have done some good work on black carbon, but I don't know that much about that subject. As for WUWT, they do excellent, very technically detailed posts on energy, especially those by David Middleton, Rud Istvan and Willis Eschenbach.

Canman said...

Johnny V, I'm familiar with Jacobson's response, where his nitpicky, lawyer/PR mentality is on display. As an example:

Clack et al. (1) question whether industrial demand is flexible, yet the National Academy of Sciences (24) review they cite states, “Demand response can be a lucrative enterprise for industrial customers.”

Are NAS experts on what's lucrative for industrial customers?

Johnny Vector said...

Canman asks "Are NAS experts on what's lucrative for industrial customers?"

I don't know, ask Clack et al. They're the ones who used the NAS report as their only reference on industrial demand shifting. It's true that it doesn't have a lot to say about it, but what it does say is pretty positive. Pointing to it as proof that load shifting won't work is misleading at best.

Nitpicky, indeed.

Canman said...

That quote from Jacobson's response is illustrative of his lawyer/PR style. He cherry picks a talking point quote, which is not evidence of anything. Note the words "can be", which I find very disputable in a practical sense. And what does "Demand response can be a lucrative enterprise for industrial customers" actually mean? How can having an unreliable electricity supply be lucrative? It means pretty much the same thing as farmers getting paid for NOT growing crops. Somebody is going to get fleeced!

Supernaut said...

Fernando, there's much I disagree with you but here's one point where we agree: closing down nuclear power plants is indeed nutty.

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

"here in Spain hydropower is used almost exclusively to balance solar and wind intermittency. There is also a pumped storage system using off peak surplus. However, the green lobbies wont allow more reservoir capacity construction, and there's no way for the system to work properly if the current left wing regime proceeds with its nutty ideas, "

My engineering friends in the Armada concede that the drain in Spain flows mainly towards the plain.

Tom said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zr1a4yjN1wQ

Wombat said...

Canman How can having an unreliable electricity supply be lucrative? It means pretty much the same thing as farmers getting paid for NOT growing crops. Somebody is going to get fleeced!"

It is lucrative for an enterprise which can use large amounts of energy when there is excess supply but cut back when there is excess demand. Not only do they buy electricity at a lower price during the times of excess supply but they get rewarded for cutting back at times of excess demand. Other electricity users benefit because supply and demand are brought more into line, the enterprise benefits because its total net cost of electricity is lowered. Of course this only works if the cost of ceasing production is less than the reward for reducing electricity consumption.

There are already users who only use cheap off peak electricity - one example would be high energy accelerators in physics laboratories off peak hot water and space heating. Compensating users for ceasing use of electricity on demand just takes this one step further and makes economic sense.

This is totally different to farmers being paid to not produce. The purpose of that type of scheme is to maintain higher prices.

Wombat said...

To put it another way, a baseload user reducing demand during peak demand/supply imbalance, is just as useful as a backup generation (gas, hydro or battery) providing additional supply. The only question is which is cheaper.

It is important that the user really is a baseload user. In Australia users wanting to enter this sort of arrangement have to guarantee to take (and pay for) a certain amount of electricity from the grid during normal operation.

Wombat said...

BPL mentions the proposal for ballast filled trains running up and down a hill as an alternative to pumped hydro. I can't see how this could be cost effective. The most likely ballasts are concrete and granite or other rocks and that these are about 2.5 times the density of water. This means that the total capacity of the rolling stock would have to be somewhere between 0.3 and 0.4 of the capacity of each of the dams in a pumped hydro scheme. Moreover, there would have to be marshaling areas at both ends of the track to accommodate all that rolling stock. Dams and pipelines should be much cheaper. If you estimate the reliability and maintainability of a system based on the number of moving parts the problem becomes even worse (think of all those wheels just for a starter).

John ONeill said...

Re Mark Jacobson's '100% W,W,S' solutions project, this article comprehensively shows how ridiculous one of his national blueprints is, in ' Why does Mark Jacobson hate Finland?
'https://passiiviidentiteetti.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/part-1-why-does-mark-jacobson-hate-finland/

John Farley said...

I think we have already run out of good spots for hydroelectric dams.

BBD said...

Brian

There's nothing like the hydropower potential in the UK to back up a future national-scale wind fleet against days-long windspeed lulls.

As others have mentioned, you first need your hydropower reserve. Fine for some places and a non-starter for others.

So back to PHES, or rather the conspicuous lack of it and any serious plans to get it built.

Ken Fabian said...

(Try again!)
Using existing flow-through hydro for Wind and Solar backup is a logical progression as the proportion of W&S grows. Is this approach going to take us 100% RE? Of course not. But we can and we should do such things as opportunities arise - whilst constantly reassessing our options as we go; the 'natural' limits to what RE can do will become apparent along the way. Any commitment - in principle or even legislated - to reach 100% RE is going to be subject to change. Like Australia's no nuclear 'law', it is one election and vote in parliament away from being overturned. Flexibility is one of the advantages of deploying RE - there will room and time to change what we do in the face of arising problem. Nuclear on the other hand requires a deep, long lasting commitment, with few options for changing thing along the way - and it looks to me like 'ad hoc' is the way it is going, arising from lack of overarching policy and planning and divided politics.

As I have said before in other threads, I think powerful and influential people and interests, that would (we assume) choose nuclear over RE if they had no choice but reduce emissions, choosing to NOT reduce emissions - are a bigger impediment than anti-nuclear activism or left politics. Climate science denial (which I see as a product of climate responsibility and accountability denial rather than the other way around) is nuclear's biggest problem - because I think if opposition to nuclear disappeared the fundamental reasons commerce and industry oppose strong climate action will remain unaffected.