The U.S. Department of Energy teamed up with GE Vernova's Consulting Services to assess the efficacy of pumped hydro storage when introduced to a large grid with high percentages of renewables.

The challenge

With an increase in demand for renewable generation, engineers are searching for the most economical methods of storing wind and solar energy to access when demand is low. A common solution is through battery storage, but the available supply doesn’t always meet the demand, leading to blackouts and brownouts. Clearly, a new solution was needed.

The proposed solution

To address the shortfall of energy during peak times in California, the U.S. Department of Energy leveraged GE Vernova's MARS software to study the effects of an additional 500 MW of hydro storage on the grid, replacing the thermal generation the state often needs to currently meet demand.

California relies heavily on renewables for its everyday power, but storage for both wind and solar energy is still being debated under the current system. Because solar and wind are heavily reliant on outside conditions, storing, and then accessing these fuel sources when they aren’t being produced proves difficult under the current conditions.

A common approach to energy storage is to introduce battery power solutions, but today’s technology does not support the level of energy required to stabilize the grid. The proposed solution is instead to use pumped hydro storage, which uses excess electricity to pump water uphill when demand is at a low. Then, when the electricity is needed, that same water will run downhill, producing power on the way.

view of the hydroelectric dam, water discharge through locks

The DOE assessed six years of historical weather data to build a model in the MARS software to simulate different load conditions for solar and wind. That data was then used to model the impact of pumped hydro storage in similar scenarios.

The study found that the introduction of pumped hydro storage to the current grid conditions can reduce the cost of annual fuel production by tens of millions of dollars on an annual basis. Additionally, the power system would become less dependent on fossil fuels to fill in the energy gap, possibly reducing emissions by millions of tons while still remaining profitable.

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