Hydropower and Energy Storage Solutions

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Hydropower and Energy Storage Solutions


June 21, 2022


Todd Briggeman, Project Director, and Frank Jakob, Project Manger, Black & Veatch


Hydropower and Energy Storage Solutions

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The development of intermittent renewables has expanded rapidly in the US energy market. Increased use of renewable energy from wind and solar are reducing the reliance on fossil fuels to the extent that some electric utilities are planning for very low levels of carbon-emitting generation in the future.  However, these great strides in climate mitigating change are not without their challenges. At Black & Veatch, we embrace the challenge as a great opportunity for deployment of multiple energy storage tools, including hydropower, to further advance intermittent renewable integration.  Let’s discuss a few of these tools and how they can be used in today’s market.

Pumped Storage Hydro (PSH):

As the National Hydropower Association (NHA) has well documented (2021 Pumped Storage Report), pumped storage hydro is a vital tool in the renewable energy integration plans of the future. Many utilities already have pumped storage hydro and are benefiting from the storage, flexibility, and stability that it provides to their systems. Forward-looking system operators and utilities are beginning to include some form of pumped storage hydro in their integrated resource plans. Pumped storage hydro’s grid scale and long duration storage are vital to moving renewable energy integration beyond the 45% level and will be essential as states seek to increase renewable portfolio standards of 50% or higher. Pumped storage hydro requires a great deal of patience and perseverance to develop along with a large initial capital expenditure. Even so, utilities, developers, and investors are all showing renewed interest in pumped storage hydro. There are now more than 60 different pumped storage hydro projects with capacity of nearly 30 GW in various stages of planning and development in the US. While it has been nearly three decades since the last large pumped storage facility was constructed in the US, the market is primed for a pumped storage renaissance.

Pumped Storage System Cycle

Hydro Plus Battery Energy Storage Systems:

Due to licensing requirements and geographic constraints, many small hydropower facilities must operate in a run-of-the-river mode. Run-of-the-river mode means that the time and level of generation are dictated by the river flow and not by the demands of the grid.  Because many of these facilities are small (30 MW or less) and the surrounding geography does not support pumped storage hydro development, hydro plus battery energy storage systems are more feasible. In these instances, pairing battery energy storage with the small hydro facility may allow the facility to operate as steady state with run-of-the-river generators while using the batteries to make the project look and act more like a peaking plant to the outside grid. The ability to take advantage of peak market rates while simultaneously reducing output during times of high intermittent generation can help small hydro owners maximize the value of their small hydro assets.

Small Hydro Potential in Existing Water Systems

Green Hydrogen Generation:

Utilities across the country are looking for ways to reduce their carbon emissions while leveraging existing assets. Modifying existing combined-cycle facilities to capitalize on a blend of natural gas and hydrogen is one consideration. Harnessing green energy, such as hydropower, to generate the hydrogen is another way to store and allow for a time transfer of the energy. Onsite hydrogen generation could also be considered for development of new small hydropower that might have otherwise been impractical due to extensive interconnection costs.

Exploring New Solutions:

Energy storage and hydropower can be used to enhance the grid and support further intermittent renewable integration in multiple ways. It is up to us as members of the hydro industry to continue to develop and explore new solutions to these complex problems. Black & Veatch brings over 100 years of engineering and construction experience to the energy market. We work to apply this experience and knowledge in developing new, practical solutions that can be deployed in this ever-changing market. Our mission is to Build a World of Difference for our clients by helping them solve these complex challenges through all phases – from feasibility studies to Owner’s Engineering to Engineer-Procure-Construct (EPC) Project execution.