Modular Pumped Storage Hydropower Feasibility and Economic Analysis

Ludington Pumped Storage Facility - Photo courtesy of Consumers Energy

To date, the vast majority of global and domestic Pumped Storage Hydro (PSH) development has focused on the construction of large (generally greater than 100MW), site-customized plants.  The viability of alternative design paradigms for PSH technologies has been actively discussed in industry and the research community, but no reliable determinations have been made.  Of particular interest is the development of smaller distributed PSH systems incorporating elements of modular design to drive down cost.  Small modular PSH could present a significant avenue to cost-competitiveness through direct cost reductions (requiring R&D), and by avoiding many of the major barriers facing large conventional designs such as access to capital, the long, uncertain licensing process, and the suppression of market prices (and subsequently revenues) caused by adding utility-scale storage to grid.

The purpose of this project is to assess the cost and design dynamics of this new form of modular PSH (m-PSH) development, explore whether the benefits of modularization are sufficient to outweigh the economies of scale inherent in utility scale development, and measure the economic competitiveness of m-PSH against alternative distributed storage technologies (i.e. batteries).

The main objectives of the m-PSH project are as follows:

  • Develop a suite of case studies to explore unique m-PSH designs;
  • Create a cost-modeling tool to quantify the cost of Greenfield m-PSH projects;   
  • Evaluate the requirements and feasibility of scaling a ground-level storage device for buildings and commercial applications, the proprietary GLIDES configuration developed at ORNL;
  • Analytically determine the technological feasibility and potential economic viability of modularizing the design of PSH units.

The core outputs of this project are a general cost estimate for m-PSH projects with installed capacities less than 100 MW, a characterization of the challenges inherent to m-PSH projects and technologies, and an evaluation of cost reduction opportunities for different m-PSH project types. This combined information will allow the industry and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Program to make an informed evaluation of the feasibility, risks, and potential benefits of pursuing an R&D strategy to reduce the cost of PSH development through modularization.