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Wales Gets Huge New Water Battery But Loses Good Crack

Wales has moved another step forward with the long-planned construction of a pumped hydro energy storage facility, which will reclaim two derelict slate quarries to store energy from local wind farms. It all sounds very sustainable and it is, partly because the sprawling new facility will re-use existing brownfields and industrial sites. However,  the new project comes at a cost. Over the years, the quarries have already been reclaimed as recreational climbing sites, and the new facility will cut off access to hiking routes and crack lines including The Good Crack, Clipopotamus, and The New Salesman among others.

Pumped Hydro in Brief

We’re fans of pumped hydro because it enables energy storage at an enormous scale at a relatively low cost based on a simple, technologically available concept: gravity. There are already hundreds of pumped hydro facilities worldwide, making it the only utility-scale energy storage system currently in common use.

The general idea is to pump vast quantities of water uphill into a reservoir when energy demand is low, then let it run downhill through turbines to provide for periods of increased demand.

The system is symbiotic with intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar power, since it evens out generating spikes while using clean, renewable energy to run the pumps.

Proposed pumped hydro system in Wales.

Quarry for pumped hydro system courtesy of Quarry Battery Company.

Pumped hydro is also an energy storage  solution for nuclear power, since nuclear power stations can’t be ramped up or down to accommodate peak and off-peak use.

The Glyn Rhonwy Pumped Storage Facility

The new pumped hydro facility is a project of The Quarry Battery Company. It will be built at two Glyn Rhonwy quarries above Llanberis, linked by a subsurface pipeline. The pumping station will also make use of brownfields, as it will be constructed in an existing industrial area.

The new facility will specifically make use of local wind farms. Adding to the sustainability fest, it will include a dam to be constructed from local slate.

The system was first proposed in 2006, beating out proposals to build an indoor ski center and a mountain biking center. The go-ahead for construction was granted just yesterday, on September 2, with completion anticipated in 2017.


The system can store about 1.1 billion liters of water, or the equivalent of about 500 megawatt-hours. Though relatively small for a pumped hydro facility, it fits into the U.K.’s big energy picture of maximizing local renewable energy resources.

New Uses for Old Brownfields

Here in the US, the Obama Administration has similarly made brownfields exploitation a key part of the “all of the above” energy policy under the Re-Powering America’s Lands initiative. The focus here is to re-use Superfund sites and other classified industrial sites for wind and solar power.

However, as the Glyn Rhonwy project demonstrates, reclaiming brownfields for renewable energy projects is not necessarily impact-free. Local groups are concerned about encroachment into common lands and the potential visual impact on an important recreation site, while The British Mountaineering Council points out that use of the Cefn Du and Mancer quarries would cut off access to climbers. Among the losses listed by BMC are “crack lines” including Liquid Armbar E4 6a, The Mancer Direct E3 5b, The Good Crack E3 6a, Clipopotamus F6b, and The New Salesman E4 6b.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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