The South Australia state government has declared the “future is renewable energy storage” as it announces support for four new pumped hydro projects in the wind and solar-rich upper Spencer Gulf region.
A day after announcing plans for a major 400MW, 1150MWh pumped hydro project in an old quarry in the Adelaide foothills, energy minister Tom Koutsantonis has announced $9 million in funding for another four big pumped hydro projects further north.
All are located reservoirs and disused mine sites near Whyalla, Port Augusta and Port Germein, and would add a total of about 750MW of generation capacity – and a massive 5,600MWh of storage – to the South Australian grid.
“Storage of renewable energy is the future and South Australia has entrenched itself as a hub for the development of large-scale storage projects,” Koutsantonis said in a statement.
“We want to see as many of these projects as possible developed in South Australia, and this funding will help these businesses accelerate the development of their pumped hydro projects.”
The large-scale pumped hydro projects add to a wave of battery storage installations, including the Tesla big battery (which is already puncturing holes in the gas cartel), and facilities at Wattle Point and Lincoln Gap, and the newly announced solar and battery storage facility at Snowtown.
The pumped hydro projects getting funding for studies from the government include Altura Group’s Goat Hill project, 12km west of Port Augusta, where it and Delta Electricity are looking at a pumped hydro project of 230MW in capacity and 1840MWh of storage.
Arrium, the Whyalla steel plant operator now owned by UK billionaire Sanjeev Gupta, is planning a 90MW/390MWh pumped hydro facility at the old Iron Duchess mine as part of its plans for 1GW of solar and storage.
Rise Renewables, chaired by former CEFC boss Oliver Yates, is looking at a 200-230MW/1600MWh pumped hydro project at the existing Baroota Reservoir, north-east of Port Germein, which is located next to high voltage transmission lines.
And EnergyAustralia, as previously foreshadowed, is looking at a 225MW/1770MWh facility at Cultana, north of Whyalla.
The payments are to be made out of the Renewable Technologies Fund, which is also backing the Tesla big battery, and the new Tesla virtual power plant, along with local micro-grids and other projects.
The announcement continues a flurry of projects unveiled by the state Labor government ahead of the forthcoming state election (its caretaker period begins in 10 days’ time), and on the anniversary of the last major power loss event in South Australia on February 8 last year.
In the past few days the government has announced the world’s biggest virtual power plant – 250MW of solar and 650MWh of battery storage on 50,000 homes to be implemented by Tesla, and Tilt’s plan for a 44MW solar farm, a 21MW/26MWh battery storage plant next to its Snowtown wind farm.
“The key to lowering power prices in South Australia is boosting competition, and these projects have the potential to dispatch cheap renewable energy when demand is high,” Koutsantonis said.
Gupta said that the cost of solar and wind was rapidly declining, but large-scale storage was essential to make “this revolution” complete and sustainable.
“Using the empty mining pits from our SIMEC Mining division in South Australia as reservoirs for storing hydro power … we will balance power generated by our large-scale solar projects in Whyalla with despatchable hydro power generated in the Middleback range,” he said.
Gupta’s company has predicted a fall in electricity costs of up to 40 per cent through renewables and storage, and said that “a dramatic reduction in power price is the most important ingredient needed for an industrial renaissance in Australia.”
Gupta’s SIMEC ZEN Energy has already won the contract to deliver electricity to the state government while waiting for the Aurora solar tower and storage project to be built in Port Augusta.
Yates said that the Baroota Hydro Project would be a 50-year critical asset that “underpins growth in renewables, lower wholesale electricity prices and network stability.”
EnergyAustralia head of assets Julian Turacek said pumped hydro had great potential to integrate intermittent renewable supply into the grid in a way that delivered reliable, affordable energy.
“Projects like these require a significant amount of work before reaching a final investment decision. We are very grateful for the support from the South Australian government as we develop solutions for Australia’s modern energy system.”
Giles Parkinson is a journalist of 30 years experience, a former Business Editor and Deputy Editor of the Financial Review, a columnist for The Bulletin magazine and The Australian, and the former editor of Climate Spectator.