After the flashy announcement, here’s what’s next for the Snowy Hydro expansion

After the flashy announcement, here’s what’s next for the Snowy Hydro expansion, by Chris Hammer.

Turnbull, standing in front of the Tumut 3 power station deep in the Snowy Mountains, announced in March plans for the Southern Hemisphere’s  biggest power-grid battery … This would be Snowy 2.0, harnessing the iconic Snowy Mountain hydro scheme to create a giant battery that would move Australia’s electricity grid into the new age of renewables by making solar and wind power more reliable. It would be, the Prime Minister declared, a “game changer”. …

Traditional hydro gathers rainfall in alpine dams, gravity feeds the water down pipes to spin turbines and generate electricity. Pumped hydro reverses the process, using electricity to pump the water back uphill into those self-same dams. The water can then be reused, making more electricity when demand warrants it. It’s a way of storing electricity; a giant battery.

The great advantage of hydro power, whether traditional or pumped, is that it can quickly provide large amounts of power for sustained amounts of time, known as “peaking” generation. The big coal-fired power stations provide base-load power, but their output cannot be quickly ramped up or cut back to match demand, while wind and solar remain hostage to the weather.

Snowy 2.0 would require a 26-kilometre tunnel linking Tantangara Reservoir to Talbingo Reservoir, a bolt-on to the 145 kilometres of tunnels in the existing Snowy Mountains scheme. …

A new 2000 megawatt power station would be built 800 metres underground, nine kilometres from the end of the tunnel, accessed from the surface down a slanting, 3.5 kilometre road tunnel. The new station would be the biggest hydro station in Australia. Snowy 2.0 would would require no new dams or reservoirs and additional transmission lines would follow existing corridors. …

Batteries or pumped-hydro?

According to [Danny] Price, an energy advisor to the South Australian government, the sums still don’t add up. He says Lithium-ion and other emerging battery technologies lose only a fraction as much energy as pumped hydro, cost less, are scalable and can be located wherever they’re needed. They can also come on-line in milliseconds. … New battery technology is evolving rapidly and becoming cheaper by the month.

And there’s the rub. Pumped hydro is a simple technology, but it’s not a magical one. It takes more electricity, between 20 and 30 per cent more, to pump the water back uphill than can be generated by running it back downhill. In terms of pure electricity, pumped hydro will always run at a loss.

Only the scare over carbon dioxide is making the project viable:

Electricity retailers and large industrial consumers have been growing increasingly concerned they could be caught out in the event of a power shortage, either unable to obtain electricity or forced to pay exorbitant spot rates. Snowy Hydro, with its ability to supply large amounts of peaking power, has found itself in the box seat, able to offer the retailers products to hedge against power shortages.  …

Recently, the wind across South Australia blew so hard, generating so much wind power, the price dropped first to zero, and then into negative territory. Snowy Hydro found itself getting paid to take the excess and pump water uphill at Tumut 3. Later, when the wind stopped blowing, the sun stopped shining and demand stepped up, it started generating electricity and selling it for a tidy profit.

Tumut poised for new hydro boom, by Michael Gorey.

Tumut real estate agent Lorraine Wysman has sold nearly as many properties in Talbingo since Thursday as she normally does in a year.

Speculators began targeting the tiny southern NSW town after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a potential $2 billion expansion of the Snowy Hydro scheme. …

“I’ve got staff who live there and they can’t believe it,” she said. … “One particular property sold without an inspection, another chap came from Sydney on Saturday and bought, and went home again. … We can’t believe the number of phone calls and think we’ll probably sell another couple of properties this week.”