Global and domestic pumped storage hydropower (PSH) development has traditionally focused on construction of large (greater than 100 MW), site-customized plants. Alternative designs for PSH technologies have been debated in industry and the research community, however, leading to interest in developing smaller, modular, distributed PSH systems.
Small modular PSH (m-PSH) could lead to cost-competitiveness through direct cost reductions arising from R&D efforts and by avoiding many of the barriers facing conventional designs, such as access to capital, the long and uncertain licensing process, and the suppression of market prices (and subsequently revenues) caused by adding utility-scale storage to the grid.
The purposes of this project were to (1) assess the cost and design dynamics of m-PSH, (2) weigh the benefits against the the economies of scale inherent in utility-scale development, and (3) measure m-PSH’s economic competitiveness against alternative distributed storage technologies (e.g., batteries).
Researchers developed case studies to explore unique m-PSH designs, created a cost-modeling tool to quantify the cost of greenfield m-PSH projects, evaluated the requirements and feasibility of scaling a ground-level storage device for buildings and commercial applications (the proprietary GLIDES configuration developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory), and determined the technological feasibility and economic viability of m-PSH.
The core outputs of this project were a (1) general cost estimate for m-PSH projects with installed capacities less than 100 MW, (2) characterization of the challenges inherent to m-PSH projects and technologies, and (3) evaluation of cost reduction opportunities for different m-PSH project types. This combined information may allow industry and the US Department of Energy’s Water Power Program to make an informed evaluation of the feasibility, risks, and potential benefits of pursuing a research and development strategy to reduce the cost of PSH development through modularization.