Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory have found pumped storage hydropower to be a viable alternative energy storage option for Alaska’s power grid.
Alaska’s size and location are causes for various energy challenges. The state is not connected to large interstate energy grids like most states are, so energy costs in rural parts of the state can be up to three to four times that of urban residents.
The majority of Alaska’s electricity comes from natural gas, a known carbon emitter. Renewable energy by way of hydropower projects would both lower these electricity costs and would reduce carbon emissions. Researchers evaluated the potential of using pumped storage hydropower in Alaska’s Integrated Railbelt System, which regulates five public utilities.
Scientists mapped and analyzed various locations throughout the state, created models using their low-carbon electricity analysis framework, studied past and present energy trends, and analyzed expected growth in electricity demand for the next 25 years. The technology generates electricity from water released by turbines from an upper reservoir to a lower one. When electricity is cheaper and more abundant at night, turbines reverse the water to be pumped back up into the upper reservoir. The technology acts as a giant battery as it can store energy and release it when needed.
U.S. Investment in Hydropower Energy
The DOE recently announced an investment of nearly $600 million into hydroelectric technology and marine power as a part of President Biden’s Investing in America plan. This marks the largest DOE investment in both technologies and has the potential to add 12 gigawatts of energy to the grid just from updating aging hydropower sites.
Pumped storage hydropower represents a renewable energy source with immense potential, especially in supporting solar and wind power with its storage abilities. The International Hydropower Association estimates that worldwide pumped storage hydropower projects currently store up to 9,000-gigawatt hours of electricity, and there is plenty of space for the technology’s growth in the U.S.
Not only did the DOE investigate the viability of sites in Alaska for hydropower projects, but the study also offers guidance on developing clean energy policies and regulations. Further, the Argonne lab has investigated ways to minimize potential environmental damage caused by hydropower technology. As hydropower becomes more widespread in the U.S., studies such as this one should account for all aspects of energy development projects, including environmental impact, policy, regulation, and lasting impact on communities surrounding these projects.