Idea to cut private energy storage cost

Toby HusseyAlbany Advertiser
Colin Stonehouse said farm dams could be the future of energy storage in WA.
Camera IconColin Stonehouse said farm dams could be the future of energy storage in WA. Credit: Toby Hussey

An Australian energy storage pioneer has chosen Denmark as the launching pad for a device he says could cut the cost of private energy storage by thousands of dollars.

Sharing ideas with projects such as Tasmania’s $2-3 billion Battery of the Nation, which will use surplus generated energy to store water for future hydroelectricity, Colin Stonehouse said his miniature system, which is being developed, could make energy storage affordable for anybody.

“Of all the energy stored in grids, one per cent is in batteries and 97 per cent is in pumped hydro,” he said.

“The issue is how you can make that small, transportable and scalable.”

Pumped-storage hydro is already used heavily worldwide — accounting for about 95 per cent of storage for big energy generators in the US.

But it is not nearly as common in Australia.

The pumped-storage hydro theory fairly simple

Two close lakes at different heights are connected by pipes containing a turbine.

During periods with excess energy generation, water is pumped from the lower reservoir up a hill to the higher one.

When energy demand peaks — such as during the morning or evening — it flows back down the hill, spinning the turbine and generating energy for the grid.

The turbine.
Camera IconThe turbine.

While projects such as Battery of the Nation show the idea is picking up momentum in Australia, costs remain prohibitive.

Mr Stonehouse said his technology was much cheaper because it used farm dams instead of lakes — reservoirs which could be as small as 150m across.

It would be the same system, just simpler, smaller and mobile.

“We’ve developed a pumped-turbine model that can be fabricated in a factory and transported,” he said.

“It means if a particular location no longer becomes viable, we can pick the unit up and send it somewhere else.

“That’s never been done before.”

No shortage of potential locations

A 2017 Australian National University study identified 22,000 potential sites for pumped-hydro energy storage in Australia.

Mr Stonehouse said his smaller device could be used at a “practically unlimited” number of sites in WA.

“In Denmark there are three sites within eyesight of (the headquarters),” he said.

“In Walpole there are sites, in Ravensthorpe there are sites, in Albany there are loads of sites.”

Kalgoorlie and the Perth Hills also had potential, he said.

The project is two years into development and once launched the company Dynamic Hydro would allow customers to purchase an energy storage capacity to suit their generation and access it on-demand.

Current laws would only allow Dynamic Hydro to sell its product to big energy users such as businesses, but Mr Stonehouse said each system had the potential to power 1500 homes.

The test dam under construction in Denmark.
Camera IconThe test dam under construction in Denmark.

While the technology would not replace batteries, which can provide a faster response to high demand, its advantages are in having less of an environmental impact, being cheaper and easily expanded.

With the number of renewable energy generators in Australia likely to increase in coming decades, Mr Stonehouse said demand for storage would also increase.

“We now have a solution which allows us to put large-scale storage facilities in the community if we find areas with the suitable reservation,” he said.

Construction of the first project is expected to begin next year.

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