The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced on 2 April it is to provide A$ 951 000 in funding to Oven Mountain Pumped Storage Pty Ltd (OMPS) to undertake a study analysing the benefits that its proposed pumped-storage scheme would have on the development of the New England Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) in the southeastern state of New South Wales.
The off-river, or closed loop, development, which is near the Macleay river between Armidale and Kempsey in northern NSW, is being developed by OMPS with the energy retailer Alinta Energy.
The study will examine the degree to which the proposed 600 MW, 7200 MWh/year Oven Mountain plant, which is expected to provide up to 12 hours of storage, can provide system-wide benefits, by integrating further variable renewable energy generation, improving system stre-ngth, and helping to reduce network constraints and marginal loss factors.
The A$ 2.2 million study, which is being undertaken with the assistance of consultants Lloyd’s Register, EY and SMEC, along with the support of the Australian Energy Market Operator and TransGrid, will also provide details of the development of the project, which is supported by the NSW Government’s Emerging Energy Programme.
With NSW set to lose 86 per cent of its coal-fired generation over the next 20 years, the co-developers noted the critical need for flexible, dispatchable generation to firm up new low-cost variable generation such as wind and solar. If built, the proposed plant could provide system strength to the region’s wind and solar farms and rapid grid power response, and also meet requirements during peak demand.
The draft 2020 Integrated System Plan forecasts Australia’s generation to be dominated by large-scale solar PV and wind by 2040, which requires new flexible and dispatchable technology to ensure Australia has access to reliable electricity when needed.
“Pumped-storage projects like Oven Mountain can play a key role in the provision of firming up and balancing the grid as increased levels of variable renewable energy generation such as wind and solar come online,” said ARENA Chief Executive Darren Miller. “Renewable Energy Zones like New England are sunny and windy areas with natural renewable energy resources, but they may be in weak areas of the grid. Pumped storage can provide system security services like frequency and voltage support, and it can provide bulk energy storage to help meet the evening peak.”
The site is considered to be ideal for pumped storage, owing to its steep topography, high hydrological head and the short distance between the two reservoirs. It is strategically located close to the border of NSW and Queensland, both of which have an abundance of renewable resources.
A key advantage of a closed loop facility is that no rivers are dammed or diverted. This ensures that sensitive ecosystems are protected from the electricity generation activities and there is no net impact on local water use. When the reservoirs have been filled, the Oven Mountain project will have little to no additional annual water needs over an operational life of more than 50 years. Water from the Macleay river will be used for the initial impounding, and small amounts of top-up water may be required periodically to make up for any seepage and evaporation from the reservoirs. During the construction phase of the project, expected to last about three years, the developers estimate that the project will create employment for around 600 in direct supply chain work, as well as around 30 operational jobs after commissioning. The project will also lead to improvements in local infrastructure. Significant upgrades of local roads will be needed to ensure access to the site and local road safety. The roads and the reservoirs will also have the potential to improve emergency services access and fire management. New fibreoptic infrastructure will also be required, forming part of the electricity transmission upgrades, and this should facilitate improvements to local mobile telecommunications.