Tapping potential of the Indus for long-term energy storage

The Indus basin could be a key player in fulfilling long-term energy storage demands across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, according to recent research by experts from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), who explored the role the basin could play to support global sustainable development.

Much of the research focused on the costs and benefits of hydropower, water storage, and long-term and short-term energy storage in the Indus basin. The potential and costs of conventional hydropower dams were considered, as well as seasonal pumped-storage. The researchers, led by Dr Julian Hunt, found that many of the challenges faced in the Indus region regarding hydropower are caused by larger water management issues. These issues stem from high population growth seen in the area coinciding with rapid urbanization, industrialization, environmental degradation, lack of water storage infrastructure, and outdated irrigation systems. The seasonality of the Indus region was also considered by the team. The Indus river experiences droughts in the winter and monsoon season, and melting snow and ice masses from the mountains in the summer. This considerably increases the flow of the river, and regular flooding events occur. Land changes resulting from climate change and reduced groundwater levels further exacerbate extreme flooding events and water scarcity.

To gather its data, the research team used various models to estimate power potentials, as well as their corresponding costs. They incorporated five essential components: the physical features of the area, the river network and water flow data, infrastructure cost estimation, and project design optimization. The modelling and analysis concluded that the Indus region has the potential to play a similar role in energy storage for Asia as the Alps do in Europe. “We found that the levelized energy storage cost in the Indus region is US$1/MWh for conventional hydro­power and US$2/MWh for seasonal pumped storage, which is the lowest cost long-term energy storage alternative in the world. Even cheaper than natural gas reinjection in empty gas reservoirs, these low costs can justify the use of seasonal pumped-storage to store energy in an annual, two-year, or three-year energy cycle. The levelized costs of energy storage with batteries is approximately US$100/MWh. This makes hydro­power energy storage 100 times cheaper, and seasonal pumped-storage 50 times cheaper. For this reason, these are good solutions for long-term energy storage,” said Dr Hunt. As more countries industrialize and develop their economies, growing energy demands are sure to follow. Having long-term energy storage using low emission methods like hydropower is important, especially during the era of climate change.

The Indus basin can serve as a global supply. “During the summer, when there is high availability of water in the Indus basin, for example, excess solar power in northern hemisphere countries can be used to pump water in seasonal pumped-storage plants in the basin, so that hydropower can be generated during the winter. With an integrated hydrogen and battery economy in the future, the region could serve as the world’s long-term energy storage hub,” Hunt concludes. Further details of this research appear in a paper by Dr Hunt and co-authors in the Journal of Energy Storage.