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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: To batteries and beyond: In a high-renewables world, pumped hydro storage could be ‘the heavy artillery’ (Utility Dive)

Experts say pumped hydro is notoriously difficult to site. But as more renewables come online, the industry is eyeing new locations and fresh technologies.

Pumped storage hydropower accounted for around 95% of commercial energy storage capacity in the U.S. as of 2018, with around 21.6 GW of installed capacity around the country. Facilities traditionally include two reservoirs, at different elevations; they draw power by pumping water to the upper reservoir, and generate it by passing that water through a turbine. 

But experts say it’s notoriously difficult to find suitable locations for the pumped hydro plants, which are large, rely on specific geographies like mountains, and have prolonged permitting and development timelines that can stretch to a decade. 

“Pumped storage is very difficult to site. It has a lot of environmental issues with it,” said Glenn McGrath, leader of the electricity statistics, uranium statistics and product innovation team at the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“We all know the problems of getting new pumped storage in, there’s all sorts of challenges,” Day acknowledged. 

In the meantime, Day is navigating the lengthy permitting process around these projects — waiting for preliminary permits, potentially submitting a notice of intent to file a license application in around two years, meaning “we could realistically be getting the [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] license in four or five years,” he said. 

Pumped storage is an expensive proposition as it is, especially in terms of building the reservoirs and power houses and “once you start putting in longer transmission, the costs start going up a lot,” he added. 

But to a certain extent, all the good places to site a pumped hydro project in the U.S. have been utilized, according to Finn-Foley.

But pumped hydro deployments face challenges beyond just location — for instance, finding investors who are willing to contribute funds upfront.

Getting the FERC license will be a big milestone for the projects, Day said, at which point the company hopes to be in advanced discussions with potential offtakers, or future owners and operators of the plant.

Read the complete piece here.