Pumped Storage Hydropower (PSH) FAST Commissioning Prize Technical Analysis

The US energy landscape has undergone major changes over the past 10 years and will continue to see significant changes in future decades as the power grid increases its reliance on variable renewable energy resources. Because of the inherent variability of these resources, renewable energy growth may require additional energy storage capacity to provide flexible load-following capabilities and other grid services that can quickly adjust to changes in energy demand and generation. Pumped storage hydropower (PSH)—one such energy storage technology—uses pumps to convey water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir for energy storage and releases water back to the lower reservoir via a powerhouse for hydropower generation. PSH facility pump and generation cycling often follows economic and energy demand conditions. Across the United States, 43 PSH facilities are in operation and 55 projects are in various permitting or licensing stages. Altogether, the 43 operational projects provide the wide majority (95%) of utility-scale electricity storage in the United States. These facilities also provide significant power and nonpower grid benefits, including large-scale electrical system reserve capacity, grid reliability support, and electricity supply-demand balancing through quick-response capabilities and operational flexibility. PSH systems can accomplish these at a scale (e.g., size) and cost that makes these systems highly attractive from a technical standpoint. Although these research concepts are still in their infancy, they demonstrate promising potential as future PSH energy storage technologies. Although PSH has many advantages, development in the United States has effectively stalled since the 1990s, partially because of the magnitude of project costs and financing interest during development and construction, the length of time from project investment until project revenue begins, permitting challenges, construction risks, competition from other storage technologies (e.g., batteries, hydrogen storage), and electricity market evolution and uncertainty. In short, the time, cost, and risk associated with modern PSH development have resulted in limited growth in the United States recently, despite the growing energy storage demand stemming from increased wind and solar power deployment. Technology innovation is needed to help reduce PSH commissioning time, cost, and risk, particularly during the post-licensing phase of project development. To address challenges facing the PSH industry and to improve PSH commissioning timelines, the US Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) initiated the PSH Furthering Advancements to Shorten Time to (FAST) Commissioning Prize project.