Australia, already a world leader in battery storage, is eyeing at least 363 gigawatt-hours of new pumped hydro capacity, a review of current projects shows.

The figure is based on a survey of nine major projects and does not include schemes where the energy storage capacity has yet to be specified, including a 235-megawatt extension to Australia’s Shoalhaven pumped hydro facility and around 2.5 gigawatts of power in Tasmania. 

Together, the nine projects could add more than 4 gigawatts of power to the Australian grid, although in practice it is unlikely all of them will be developed because of distribution network constraints. 

Most of the new capacity would come from a proposed 2-gigawatt expansion of Snowy Hydro, Australia’s largest existing hydro reserve.

Press reports said Snowy Hydro executives could make a final investment decision on the New South Wales-based project this month, although government approval, which could be swayed by a preference to build new coal plants instead, might not come until January. 

Costing up to AUD $4 billion (USD $3.2 billion), the project would add 350 gigawatt-hours of energy storage to the Australian grid. “A go-ahead is needed in the near term to keep to the target of starting generation in late 2024,” said The Australian Financial Review.

Elsewhere, at least half a dozen proposed pumped hydro projects could deliver than a gigawatt-hour of energy storage apiece.

The largest of these is a 600-megawatt, 3.6 gigawatt-hour plant announced by Oven Mountain Pumped Storage last year, with a forecast commissioning date of 2022 or 2023. Little has been heard of the venture since its announcement, however. 

More promising is a 250-megawatt, 2-gigawatt-hour plant planned in Queensland by project developer Genex Power. The project is said to be the world’s first pumped hydro plant co-located with large-scale solar. 

In October, it was given "coordinated project" status by the Queensland authorities, which means it will be fast-tracked through the approval process. Construction is slated to begin in 2019. 

Meanwhile in South Australia, Altura Group and Delta Electricity said in May that they had been given development approval for a 230-megawatt, 1.8-gigawatt-hour plant, Goat Hill, in collaboration with Delta Electricity.

Altura said in a press release that work was already underway for detailed plant design and construction contracting, putting the Goat Hill Project “on track to be the first pumped storage hydro "shovel-ready" project in South Australia.”

Since then there has been no further news of the AUD $410 million (USD $295 million) project, though.

Among the other plants said to be under development, perhaps the most noteworthy is EnergyAustralia’s plan to develop a 225-megawatt, 1.8-gigawatt-hour seawater pumped hydro facility.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency carried out a feasibility study of the Cultana scheme last year and concluded it could be built at a cost of AUD $270 (USD $195) per kilowatt-hour of installed capacity, “around a third of the cost of batteries.”

Interest in pumped hydro is increasing in Australia as the country looks to retire aging coal plants and grow the proportion of renewable energy generation sources on the grid.

More than 30 new large-scale solar and wind plants are being built across Australia and a further 180 are thought to be in planning, said Mary Hendriks, industry executive at the Australian Energy Storage Alliance.

"With the ongoing rapid construction of wind and solar farms in Australia, high uptake of energy storage solutions is imminent,” she said. 

Australia has significant pumped hydro potential, she stated, and the technology “will be an important component of the energy storage future for Australia,” she said. “But these projects will take significant investment and time to complete.” 

In the meantime, the country is continuing to move forward with ambitious battery adoption measures. Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator estimates more than 11,000 residential battery systems are being installed across the country per year. 

And at grid scale, "most New South Wales development approvals for solar or wind farms recently lodged include the potential for future installation of utility-scale battery storage," Hendriks said.

The first utility-scale battery storage projects in Victoria became operational in November, and in New South Wales “several are planned for 2019,” Hendriks said.