Search for sites to build new pumped-storage hydroelectricity schemes

The Global pumped hydro atlas has been released by the Australian National University’s 100% Renewable Energy Group.

Using computer programs, the ANU have found 530,000 potential pumped-storage hydroelectricity sites worldwide, while surveying between the latitude range of 60 degrees north and 56 degrees south, which is pretty much “global”, with apologies to Alaska, Greenland, Iceland and much of Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia – the prerequisite digital elevation database used did not extend further north.

The database of all those found sites can be viewed online using the Australian Renewable Energy Mapping Infrastructure viewer, with the  hydro storage data added and here are some screen-shots I took.

Sites in Europe for energy storage capacity of 150 GWh

The search which compiled the database has been programmed to look for suitable sites to host only certain specific target energy storage capacities, namely 2GWh, 5GWh, 15GWh, 50GWh and 150GWh and that is how the various sites are classified and how the suggested size of reservoirs has been calculated.

For example, if a site is found by the program to be a potential site to store 150GWh and added to the 150GWh data set then that site can be assumed to be a potential site for less than 150GWh, but it may also be found by expert human inspection to be suitable for storing more than 150GWh.

Sites in NW Europe for energy storage of 50 GWh or 150 GWh.
Sites in or near Scotland for energy storage in the range 2GWh to 150GWh
Sites in the Scottish Highlands for energy storage of 150GWh
A 3D view of sites in the Scottish Highlands for energy storage of 150GWh.

The suggested size and location of the upper reservoir is indicated by light blue and the lower reservoirs by dark blue, and pairing suggested by a line between them.

Sites near Loch Ness for energy storage of 150GWh

I note that the search algorithm has failed to identify the site I have proposed for a colossal 6,800GWh pumped storage hydro scheme at Strathdearn as the biggest and best but that’s OK.

Sites in the Western Highlands for energy storage of 150GWh
Sites in Ross for energy storage of 150GWh
Sites in West Central Scotland for energy storage of 50GW
Sites in Galloway for energy storage of 50GWh
A site in Wales for energy storage of 150GWh

The ANU have also provided spreadsheets via Dropbox which provide details for the upper and lower reservoirs for each site found.

I found the rows for the Scottish suggested sites in the Northern Europe Spreadsheet downloaded it then uploaded it to Google Sheets to edit it to highlight the rows I am interested in.

UPDATE: (10 April 2019) The Global pumped hydro atlas has highlighted 3 B-class (no A-class) sites in Scotland for 150GWh schemes and of the 3, the Glasa – Loch Morie site requires the smallest dams.

Loch Morie only contains about 30% of the water required for the scheme and while I was considering the issue of “from where?” to source the remaining 70% of the water it did occur to me that Loch Glass, which neighbours Loch Morie to the south-west, should be used as a second lower reservoir for the scheme.

Further research revealed that using both lochs as lower reservoirs, “as is”, would obviate the need to build any lower dam at all, which was nice!

So I have the Global pumped hydro atlas to thank for inspiring my latest blog post and hydro-scheme proposal! 🙂

Glasa Morie Glass Pumped-Storage Hydro Scheme

It wasn’t obvious, to me anyway, what the distinction was between Global pumped hydro atlas data sets classified as “storage time” being either “6 hours” or “18 hours”.

What I am sure of is the physics and the simple relationship between an energy store and the time for which it can supply a constant power is as follows.

Energy equals power multiplied by time.  E = P × T

– which can be rearranged as –

Time equals energy divided by power.  T = E ÷ P

So for example, an energy storage capacity of 50 GWh  can supply constant power for time combinations of –

50 GWh = 1 GW × 50 hours
50 GWh = 2 GW × 25 hours
50 GWh = 2.77 GW × 18 hours
50 GWh = 5 GW × 10 hours
50 GWh = 8.33 GW × 6 hours
50 GWh = 10 GW × 5 hours

So I emailed the ANU Global pumped hydro atlas designated contact person, Matt Stocks, and he kindly explained the team’s thinking as quoted.


G’day Scottish Scientist,
Yes – as you point out – there are an infinite number of possible storage times. Therefore, we decided to choose which to use to save time.
Ultimately, they are indicative. We chose a factor of three as our scaling for both energy storage (5, 15, 50, 150 note the deliberate mistake) and storage time (6h/18h). 6h is about the size that is talked about to combine pumped hydro with the solar daily cycle. 18h is about the time we found in our 100% renewable electricity in Australia paper to balance the system at a system level.
The 6h and 18h assumption affects the power and therefore affects the economics of the system. You will see that the pairing and the rankings for 5GWh/6h and 5GWh/18h are different as the power of these systems are different.

The data for “Upper” and “Lower” “dam volume (GL)” are calculated assuming this dam cross section. The angle of the slope is arc-tangent of one third, 18.435°.
Well done and thanks to Matt Stocks, Andrew Blakers and the whole team at ANU. 🙂

If you want to share with readers here your experience of using the Global pumped hydro atlas or share your success or frustration in looking in your part of the world for a good site for a new pumped hydro scheme then by all means please do reply with your comments below.

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