EU Science Hub

Electricity storage: how to map the potential of pumped hydropower storage

Apr 04 2012

A joint study by the JRC and University College Cork (Ireland) has led to a new methodology to assess the European potential for pumped hydropower, a type of electricity storage.

A larger storage capacity would enable a wider penetration of non-dispatchable renewable energies (such as wind, which cannot be dispatched under request) and contribute to decarbonisation of the electricity system. The fastest growing renewables – solar and wind – depend on natural resources that are not necessarily available when electricity is most needed. Therefore the possibility to use the generated energy during times of increasing demand becomes extremely important.

Pumping water from a lower to a higher elevation reservoir during off-peak electricity demand periods transforms electricity into potential energy, which in turn can be re-converted to electricity in periods of high demand. This system, known as pumped hydropower storage (PHS) is currently the only widespread, large-scale electricity storage technology.

The electricity generated from the storage system will be as “green” as the energy used to pump the water up. Using wind and solar energy to transfer the water to the higher reservoir will therefore support greener electricity generation. In addition, large-scale energy storage will help reach the 2020 EU energy targets of 20% energy generated from renewable sources.

In the absence of an assessment on a Europe-wide PHS potential, the JRC report “Pumped-hydro energy storage: potential for transformation from single dams” describes the proposed methodology, and provides case studies for Croatia and Turkey.

The applied methodology shows that the PHS potential of Croatia is 60 GWh, which is three times higher than current capacity of 20 GWh. Turkey’s potential is estimated at 3 800 GWh, noting that there are no PHS plants operating in Turkey.

The methodology was validated during an expert workshop, held at the JRC premises in the Netherlands on 2-3 April 2012, which was attended by over 30 European experts from the industry and academia.