A company called Moriah Hydro Corp. hopes to build a gigantic, 260 megawatt pumped storage hydroelectric facility in upstate New York, and it will use a series of abandoned, interconnected iron mines to do the job. That’s a nifty approach that gets around one of the sticky issues involved in pumped storage, which is where to find sites for massive new reservoirs. That still leaves the question of what kind of energy will be stored, but let’s take a closer look at the project and see what’s what.
The Mineville Pumped Hydro Project
For those of you new to the topic, a pumped storage facility simply recycles the same water between an upper reservoir and a lower reservoir, rather than letting it run down a river as in a conventional hydroelectric facility.
The new facility, called the Mineville Pumped Storage Project, gets a good rundown from writer Barry Cassell at generationhub.com. You can also get more details from the project’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission filing in the Federal Register.
According to Cassell, the new reservoirs would be contained completely within the existing mines and existing tunnels will be used to channel the flow. The powerhouse will also be constructed underground.
In other words, there will be minimal disruption to the existing landscape. That’s accord with another pumped storage project that recently caught our attention, at Glyn Rhonwy in Wales.
The powerhouse for the Welsh project will be located in an existing brownfield site, and it will use existing abandoned quarries for storage. However, the quarries have already been repurposed for recreational climbing and hiking, and some (but not all) of the trails will be lost when the new facility is built.
Clean Energy For Pumped Hydro
The Mineville project is off to a good start in terms of land use. As for the energy needed to do the pumping, pumped storage is notable because it is the only utility-scale energy storage technology in common use today, with hundreds of facilities around the world, and because it is ideal for storing intermittent energy sources, particularly wind (the Glyn Rhonwy project, for example, is specifically designed to store energy from a nearby wind farm).
Another notable aspect of pumped hydro is its use of existing, proven technology; namely, pumps and turbines, which means that the main obstacle is finding suitable sites for new facilities rather than the development of transformational technology.
One approach would be to use existing dams for new pumped storage facilities, which in the US would mean hundreds of potential sites.
On the other hand, at least one novel approach to pumped hydro overcomes the land use obstacle, by employing a pair of parallel, vertical shafts rather than using open surface reservoirs.