The Bingham Canyon pumped hydro project – by far the world’s largest, but still much too small.

Some of the larger-scale options (pumped hydro, CAES, FLES etc.) presently being considered for storing intermittent renewable energy rely on the existence of holes in the ground, often man-made ones, to make them work. In this post I take as a hypothetical example the world’s biggest man-made hole (the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine, Utah, shown as viewed from space in the inset) and fill it with water from the Great Salt Lake 25km to the north to get an idea of how much untapped hydro storage potential Bingham and other holes like it might offer. I find that Bingham has the potential to store about 3TWh, which would make it by far the largest pumped hydro facility in the world. 3TWh of storage, however, is nowhere near enough to support an all-renewables world, and there just aren’t that many more big man-made holes like Bingham around.

The three basic ingredients of a pumped hydro project are an upper reservoir, a lower reservoir and pipelines (penstocks) connecting the two. Bingham already has two of these ingredients – a large hole suitable for an upper reservoir and the Great Salt Lake, which I assume, optimistically, could be used as a lower reservoir.

First we will look at the potential size of the upper reservoir. The Bingham Canyon deposit has been mined more or less continuously since 1906 and here’s the resulting hole:

Figure 1: The Bingham pit looking northeast towards Salt Lake City. The original Bingham Canyon, or what’s left of it, is marked for reference. The benches are either 50ft (15m) or 100ft (30m) high. Data from Google Earth.

The sheer scale of Bingham is difficult to grasp. People high up in the visitor’s gallery, for example, see ant-like mine trucks crawling around the base of the pit:

Figure 2: Truck activity in base of Bingham Canyon pit.

But on closer inspection they turn out not to be very ant-like at all:

Figure 3: The Cat 797 H haul truck, with a payload of 400 short tons.

I can’t find a detailed estimate of the total volume of material excavated from Bingham, but a ball-park estimate using Google Earth indicates around 10 billion cubic meters of material weighing approximately 25 billion tonnes. This is over a thousand times the 6.7 million cu m of excavation contemplated by the Flat Land Energy Storage project discussed by Euan Mearns in his FLES post.

Of more direct concern, however, is the capacity of the upper reservoir to hold water. As shown in Fig. 1 the limiting water elevation occurs where Bingham Canyon itself intersects the pit, at which point the elevation is about 1920m above sea level. Using 1900m as the limiting water surface elevation gives the reservoir shape shown in Fig. 4. We have a roughly circular reservoir with an average diameter of about 5,000m, a maximum depth of 500m and an average elevation of 1,650m. Treating this shape as an inverted cone yields a volume of 3.3 billion cubic meters, a thousand times as much as the amount stored in the disused Glenmuckloch pit discussed in Euan’s recent eponymous post.

Figure 4: Upper reservoir extent, water level at ~1,900m. The discolored areas around the reservoir are pit slopes containing waste material or unmined ore, access roads, leach dumps etc. Data Google Earth.

The next question is what to use as a lower reservoir. As shown in Figure 5 we can either go about 25km north to the Great Salt Lake (average elevation 1,280m) or roughly the same distance south to Utah Lake. The question, however, largely answers itself because Utah Lake is only a third the size of the Bingham upper reservoir (1.1 billion cubic meters) and this would limit the upper reservoir to a third of its capacity, like Gorona del Viento on El Hierro in the Canaries. The Great Salt Lake, on the other hand, contains about 20 billion cubic meters. The problem is its salinity, which can range from 5-27%:

Figure 5: Location of Bingham upper reservoir relative to the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake. The metro area to the east is Salt Lake City. Data Google Earth.

The next question is where does the 3 billion cubic meters of water needed to fill the upper Bingham reservoir come from? To make the project work I must assume that it will be filled with water from the Great Salt Lake – preferably from a deep intake that taps the less saline water at depth (can water with 5-10% salinity be used to drive hydro turbines? I have no idea, but sea water at 3.5% does not seem to pose any insuperable problems.) Kennecott, the current property owner, also extracts maybe as much as 20,000 gpm from wells, drains and collection basins for use as cooling and tailings water in the mineral processing facilities adjacent to the Great Salt Lake shown in Figure 5, and this could also be used to fill the pit if minerals production is no longer an issue. There is also some chance that the pit would eventually fill itself, although this would take a long time. Elevations over 2,000m at this latitude can receive over 1,000mm of annual precipitation, mostly falling as snow, but copper deposits tend to be highly permeable and much of this percolates into the ground. Because of this a large plume of contaminated groundwater has spread downhill into the Salt Lake Valley over the years.

To keep the upper reservoir full and aid in the process of filling it we therefore need to line the pit sidewalls with an impermeable liner and/or cover them with an impermeable clay layer. How much will this cost? Again I have no idea, but I have to assume that the cost won’t be prohibitive or the project won’t be viable.

So having established the basic design elements of the Bingham Canyon pumped hydro project and forced it to work whether it wants to or not, how much energy does it store? According to Engineering Toolbox storage capacity in joules (watt-seconds) is given as:

  • Volume of the upper reservoir (3.3 billion cubic meters)
  • times the average elevation difference between the upper and lower reservoirs, (1650 – 1280 = 370m)
  • times the density of water (1000kg/m3)
  • times the gravitational constant (9.81 m/s-2)

= 12,000,000,000,000,000 watt-seconds, or
3,300,000,000 kWh, or
3,300,000 MWh, or
3,300 GWh, or
3.3 TWh

What emerges is a truly monstrous pumped hydro storage system which at ~3TWh exceeds the capacity of any existing system in the world by orders of magnitude (Bath 0.024, Dinorwig 0.010 TWh). However, it will still supply US demand for only about 7 hours and will also be far too small to store any significant fraction of the world’s seasonal solar or wind surpluses.

And I haven’t even discussed the project’s fatal flaw. It’s not problems with Great Salt Lake brines, nor costs, nor environmental impact, nor any of the thousand-and-one other potential problems that I’ve glossed over, but this:

Figure 6: The Great Bingham Canyon Landslide of April 10, 2013.

There’s nothing about the Bingham Canyon Mine that isn’t big, so it’s to be expected that the largest “artificial” landslide ever recorded (150 million tonnes) occurred there on April 10, 2013. There were no injuries because the event had been predicted some days in advance, but one can imagine what would have happened if the pit had been full of water up to the 1900m level (just below the buildings in the left foreground) at the time. And yet more landslides can be expected in the future. Open pit mines and other large man-made holes in the ground are not designed for long-term stability. They fight gravity, and gravity always wins in the end.

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67 Responses to The Bingham Canyon pumped hydro project – by far the world’s largest, but still much too small.

  1. brianrlcatt says:

    How much would this COST? In the UK one week’s supply is 6.4TWh. We could easily need a week from storage if all wind was close to zero with a winter HIgh across the UK. That needs rough;y 11 Billion 600Wh car batteries at £50 each, so over £500 Billion to back up a weeks supply with 170 car batteries each, etc. Cheaper with Powerwalls but both need regulat replcament at c.£0.5 Trillion a pop, quite mad when nuclear can just meet the demand on the exisiting grid in real time without liftetime subsidies. And don’t forget the energy “stored” is already overpriced and “storage” actually means conversion to gravitational potential energy and regeneration into electricity, so adding the cost of hydro to the cost of wind, etc..

    PS We don’t have more that 12TWh in hydro possible, about 1GW in place already which delivers around 6TWh @ 68% duty cycle. Claiming we can rely on renewables if we build storage is just delusional assertion, or simple deceit, dismissed in a few seconds by the facts and maths.

    • Peter Lang says:

      Claiming we can rely on renewables if we build storage is just delusional assertion, or simple deceit, dismissed in a few seconds by the facts and maths.

      Exactly right!

  2. robertok06 says:

    “What emerges is a truly monstrous pumped hydro storage system which at ~3TWh ”

    Hi Roger, great work, as usual.

    I’d just like to say that 3TWh DELIVERED by such a pumped-hydro scheme would need at least 4.5 TWh of INPUT electricity.
    This place is in the middle of nowhere, and if used with renewable wind power generated far away it would suffer from the usual 6+ % losses per 1000 km of distance from the generation point, plus the canonical 20% losses to pump the water in and 10% losses at generation… I’m getting close to 40% compounded losses, so 3/0.6=5 TWh… who’s gonna pay and be responsible for the missing 2 TWh?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Roberto, the general public are happy to pay.

      • Peter Lang says:

        If the general public are willing to pay for this, without even a basic estimate of financial viability, why aren’t they happy to pay for your “puny monster” and Scottish Scientist’s crazy scheme, and all the many other proposed pumped hydro and other energy storage schemes? Why did construction of these pretty much stall after the 1980’s?

    • gweberbv says:

      Roberto,

      for the world record pumped storage scheme, you would also like to have a world record HVDC connection. Not the mediocre 500 kV, where you might have your ~6% from, but more likely 1100 kV. See here: http://www.abb.com/cawp/seitp202/f0f2535bc7672244c1257ff50025264b.aspx
      R*I^2 losses should go down quadraticly with increasing voltage (if U*I is hold constant).

      But if pumped storage losses in the order of 30% were in general unacceptable, why are these things existing since nearly a century?

      • robertok06 says:

        “But if pumped storage losses in the order of 30% were in general unacceptable, why are these things existing since nearly a century?”

        I didn’t say they are unacceptable, I said they are unavoidable, which is a different thing. The consequence of that is that everything becomes correspondingly more expensive, because you have to install more turbines/panels, bigger transmission lines, and so on… which flies in the face of the “renewables’ LCOE is soooooo low now, bottom rock low, lower than anything else”… the latest urban legend of green spin. Just nuts.

        P.S.: even at a higher voltage, losses will be there… maybe not the 6% I mentioned but maybe 3%… and only if the state of the art UHVDC cables are used, which are… again… a niche technology with higher costs.

  3. robertok06 says:

    Sorry Roger, a small correction… just for precision:

    “the largest “artificial” landslide ever recorded (150 million tonnes) occurred there on April 10, 2013.”

    Actually a much bigger man-made landslide took place back in 1963 in Italy, killed instantly almost 2000 people, 260 million m3 rock slide into an almost full hydroelectric dam reservoir… the Vajont disaster, the ensuing wave jumped over the dam, leaving it intact, and fell onto the Longarone village, which was downhill (after having obliterated a few more small villages placed on the shore of the dam lake, before the jump).

    https://it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disastro_del_Vajont

    (sorry, found it in italian).

    • Hi Roberto, and thanks for your comments.

      Unless I can claim an exception on the grounds of almost unbelievable human stupidity I guess I’m going to have to admit that the Vajont landslide was a lot bigger than the Bingham landslide. Wikipedia, incidentally, has a good article on Vajont in English for anyone who might be interested:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vajont_Dam

      But Bingham isn’t exactly in the middle of nowhere. Just east is the Ogden-Salt Lake City-Provo metro area – population 2.5 million – and 100km to the south a 100kV DC line runs from the Intermountain coal plant into the heart of Southern California. But Bingham will still supply only enough power to keep the state of Utah running for about a month, although it would be more if Utah didn’t export so much of it to S. California.

    • Peter Lang says:

      Robertoko6

      There’s also the Downie Slide in the Columbia River upstream from the Revelstoke Dam. I worked on the site investigation and stabilisation program, 1976-1978 during construction of the Revelstoke Hydro project.

      Downie slide is approximately 2 km x 2 km x 250 m thick, 1500×10^6 m3. Tt was sliding at about 10 mm per year before stabilisation (it’s been sliding since the glacier retreated). BC Hydro stablilised it and now it is moving at about 1 mm per year. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/523c951be4b0728273e73d94/t/52d03dfce4b050f6605126a2/1389379068810/1999-1+Rock+Slopes+and+Reservoirs+-+Lessons+Learned+-+Moore.PDF

      The concern was that it could behave like Vajont once the Revelstoke reservoir filled. There are many similarities. The filling Revelstoke reservoir would flood the toe of the slide and reduce the resisting force of the toe to the down-slope driving force from the slide mass above.

      If the Revelstoke dam was over topped like Vajont, it could break. There are 14 more dams downstream to Portland Oregon and there is also the lovely materials buried in the Columbia River flood plane around Hanford, Washington. Imagine the consequences of breaking all those dams like dominoes and flushing out all the Columbia and its settlements in one go. What fun, eh? 🙂

      • robertok06 says:

        “Imagine the consequences of breaking all those dams like dominoes and flushing out all the Columbia and its settlements in one go. What fun, eh?”

        Happened already!…

        Banqiao, China, Aug 1975:

        “The crumbling of the dam created a moving wall of water 6 meters high and 12 kilometers wide. Behind this moving wall of water was 600 million cubic meters of more water.

        Altogether 62 dams broke. Downstream the dikes and flood diversion projects could not resist such a deluge. They broke as well and the flood spread over more than a million hectares (2.5 million acres) of farm land throughout 29 counties and municipalities.”

        http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/aug1975.htm

        An estimated 171 thousand people got killed, directly or indirectly, by the accident.

        Cheers.

        • Peter Lang says:

          Robertok06

          Yep. Excellent point. However, not as many people to kill in Washington State, Oregon , Portland etc, so not nearly as serious consequences as Banqiao, China, Aug 1975. 🙂

  4. Peter Lang says:

    Roger,

    I haven’t checked your figures yet, but the first thing I noticed is 25 km horizontal distance between the upper and lower reservoirs. You may want to calculate the mass of water in the tunnels (or surface pipes) and check the feasibility of accelerating this mass of water from 0 m/s to say 2.5 m/s in one to a few minutes.

    Readers may be interested in a conceptual study I did for an 8 GW, 400 GWh pumped hydro scheme linking two existing large reservoirs in the Australian Snowy Mountains Scheme: https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/04/05/pumped-hydro-system-cost/

    Three tunnels, each 12.7m diameter and 53 km long, would be required to connect the reservoir to the underground power house. The water in each tunnel weighs 6.7 million tonnes. Total in three tunnels is 20 million tonnes. The transmission system and other generators have to be able to supply reliable, constant power for pumping. To conceive what would be required to accelerate 20 million tonnes of water to 2.5 m/s in around a minute or so, consider ten 200,000 tonne oil tankers linked bow to stern and a tug boat out front trying to accelerate all of them to 9 km/h in one minute.

    Note: the Tantangara-Blowering scheme is not economically or technically viable. I did the conceptual analysis to help others to better understand some of the analyses engineers do in the pre-feasibility investigations for hydro and pumped hydro schemes. The two reviewers comments (included at the end of the post) and many of the comments on the thread are informative.

    • Peter. I don’t think sluggish water flow rates are a major concern here because the basic purpose of Bingham and any other PH megaprojects that might get built would be to store and release large seasonal fluctuations in solar generation and/or long-term fluctuations in wind generation over extended periods of time. Short-term load matching and grid stability would continue to be handled by much smaller and more nimble facilities like Dinorwig and Bath, which were built specifically to complement baseload power from nuclear plants. And who knows – storage batteries may eventually become cheap and reliable enough to perform this function by themselves, although I’m not holding my breath on that one.

      • Peter Lang says:

        Roger, I am not clear what you mean by

        I don’t think sluggish water flow rates are a major concern here because the basic purpose of Bingham and any other PH megaprojects that might get built would be to store and release large seasonal fluctuations in solar generation and/or long-term fluctuations in wind generation over extended periods of time.

        Power is directly proportional to flow rate. Therefore, so is the economic viability.
        Maximum flow rate is commonly kept below 3 m/s in rock tunnels and concrete lined tunnels because of rapidly increasing friction losses above that rate. (Steel pipes would be hugely expensive, so probably excluded.)

        If you want to pump constantly for days or weeks at a time, you need constant, stable baseload power, not highly variable weather-dependent power sources.

        If you are intending to pump during the day and evening (peak and shoulder price periods) then you have to pay a much higher price for electricity, even from baseload power stations. This is not economic. To be economic, a rough rule of thumb is that you need to sell electricity for about 4x what you bought it for. So, the most economic way to run it is to use off-peak power from baseload power stations for pumping – midnight to around 6 am, and generate to sell power at peak and intermediate times. If buying renewable power instead of baseload, it is very hard to make a case that it can be economically viable.

        See the link I gave, including Reviewer No.1’s comments? It explains.

        If you want to use intermittent power for pumping, you should probably be thinking of using variable speed turbines, in which case you have the issue of how quickly you can accelerate and decelerate the mass of water in the tunnels.

        Even with pumping using steady reliable baseload, pumped hydro and large hydro schemes are still required to power up and down rapidly.

        I don’t know of any pumped hydro scheme with a 25 km headrace tunnel or penstock, do you? Does anyone? If so, please provide a link to the engineering specifications.

        I’d encourage you to read the link I gave. I expect yo’llu find it interesting. It’s been in the top 10 most popular threads on that web site since it was posted five years ago, so clearly people around the world are clicking on it.

        • Peter: All I was trying to do in this post was obtain a rough estimate, using Bingham as a hypothetical example, of how much untapped pumped hydro storage potential might exist in large man-made holes in the ground. Engineering details and economics were not a consideration, although they would obviously become considerations in the unlikely event that any of the large man-made holes turned out to be potentially viable PH projects.

    • Peter, Roger

      Coming from another direction; one of the largest pumping stations is the Westbank drainage system in Belle chasse. There are 11 pumps each delivering about 50 m3/s. Impeller diameter (vertical) are 11 foot or so! At $1 billion.

      So to deliver 3 billion m3 say in 24 hours, you will need at least 700 of those monsters.

      You have a ballpark just for the pump station albeit different design and differenttype pumps. Who knows for the tunnels.

      • Peter Lang says:

        Those are low head pumps. Not relevant to high-head. High-head reversible turbines for pumping and generating are generally Francis turbines.

        • donoughshanahan says:

          Peter

          Obviously I am not an idiot and any cost comparison could be considered “irrelevant” due to the custom nature of the job involved no? I was simply giving a internet available cost example for this thought experiment for pumps that would be capable of delivering among the largest flows (but not head) as required and giving a simple price tag..

          I do not think Roger has set out to get more than a thought experiment going.

  5. rjsigmund says:

    when i was involved with the opposition to building another nuclear power plant on lake erie in the 80s, i advocated pumped storage as a way to take advantage of the off-peak power already being generated by other regional baseload power plants…my thought was that water could be pumped uphill out of lake ontario during off peak hours, through lake simcoe and to the georgian bay of lake huron, then reverse it to generate power at peak time..as i recall, there are already a number of canals, locks, and other waterways in the area that could be included in the scheme…even though i had drawn a few crude diagrams, my idea was never taken seriously, and ultimately the power plant was cancelled because it wasn’t needed…had they built it, they’d be running their plants at an average 50% of capacity for normal requirements…

    my point is that you’re saying the Bingham Canyon project would be much too small…i dont think you’d have that complaint if you were using lake Ontario as your lower reservoir and Lakes Huron and Michigan as your upper reservoir…the Great Lakes are a monstrous untapped wind resource, with the temperature differences between the lakes and the land driving continuous breezes…combine that with pumped storage as i’ve described, and you could supply the entire region with renewable power…

    • Strange that you should mention this because I’ve also recently been looking into the untapped pumped hydro potential of he Great Lakes, and it truly is enormous. According to my calculations your proposal to connect Lakes Huron and Michigan with Lake Ontario would yield up to 150TWH of energy storage potential. The problem is that to make use of it you would have to periodically drain Lake Ontario, which I don’t think is an option. And if you have nowhere to store the surpluses then the monstrous untapped wind resources of the Great Lakes become largely untappable.

      • robertok06 says:

        … don’t discount the opposition of the greens to anything touching the ecosystem of 3 lakes… would never pass local opposition.

      • rjsigmund says:

        roger, i never envisioned draining Lake Ontario…i figured you’d have to limit what you took out of it to about a foot or two of its elevation, which is within the range of the normal fluctuation in its level when the wind shifts from southwest to northeast…the St Lawrence Seaway should not be affected…

        i also thought of pumping Ontario back to Lake Erie, but figured the Niagara River was too close….taking it to the Georgian Bay end of Lake Huron, where it would spread over two Great Lakes, should not cause a massive outflow at the headwaters of the Detroit river…

        • OK, let’s change you would have to periodically drain Lake Ontario to one would have to periodically drain Lake Ontario.

          But as soon as you start limiting lake level fluctuations to a foot or two you no longer have a monster storage reservoir and there’s nowhere to store your surplus wind.

          • rjsigmund says:

            ok, roger, it’s obvious that in recalling an idea i had thirty years ago while reading your piece and trying to apply it to a different problem today, i didn’t consider its limitations…at the time, i half believed what the company presented the need for the plant was (peak load), and looked for an alternative…as it turned out, they already had capacity in place to generate nearly 40% more than peak load, and were just planning more generation capacity willy-nilly because a system was in place for utilities to be reimbursed for whatever they spent plus a profit from the area’s consumers…

          • Alex says:

            Lake Ontario: 19E9m2
            Elevation: 74m
            Lake Huron elevation: 177m

            Energy per m change: 19E12 kg x 9.8 x 103 = 1.9E16J
            =5.33 TWh, less efficiency losses.

          • Peter Lang says:

            That’s a useful storage capacity? I wonder why it hasn’t been seriously proposed before? Even 30 cm change would be enormous energy storage. With amount of energy storage, I expect nuclear plus pumped hydro could supply a significant proportion of baseload plus some shoulder and peak power for Ontario and NE USA?

            What’s the equivalent storage in TWh per metre change for Lake Ontario?
            What construction would be needed to store a metre head change in each lake (e.g. a small dam on each lake?)
            What are the environmental, infrastructure and public opposition issues?

            Lets assume its used for daily cycles, not for storing intermittent renewable energy. And assume say 4 TWh generation per day on average = ~1,500 TWh per year. At $30/MWh net (electricity sell price minus buy price), the income would be about $45B per year.

          • Alex: Unless I’ve blown my sums your 5.33TWh estimate is for the entire 103m head between Huron and Ontario. The TWh/m change would be 19E12 kg x 9.8 x 1.0 = 0.051TWh.

          • Peter Lang says:

            I get the same as Alex excluding efficiency losses.

            I then assumed 85% round trip efficiency and assumed 365 cycles per year generating from 2/3 of the 1 m storage on average.

            area = 1.90E+10 m3
            depth = 1 m
            volume = 1.90E+10 m3
            density = 1000 kg/m3
            gravity = 9.81 m/s2
            head = 103 m
            energy = 1.92E+16 J
            seconds/hour = 3600 s
            energy = 5.33E+12 Wh
            TWh/Wh = 1.00E+12
            energy = 5.33E+00 TWh
            efficiency = 85%
            energy = 4.53E+00 TWh
            average Usage = 66%
            Generation/day = 2.99E+00 TWh
            cycles/year = 365 cycles
            TWh/year = 1.09E+03 TWh
            Net price = $30 $/MWh
            Revenue/year = 3.28E+10 $/a
            Revenue/year = 33 $B/a

          • Peter Lang says:

            I’ve had a look at distances between Lake Huron and Lake Ontario. It’s around 100 km – too long for pumped hydro.

            Lake Erie to Lake Ontario is around 40 km south to North from east of Port Colborne to east of Port Dalhousie. This also is too long unless an intermediate lake can be used. From Niagara Falls to Lake Erie is about 25 km. Also too long without an intermediate lake.

            Furthermore, can infrastructure and services on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie handle a 1 m water level change (up and down) each day? Infrastructure and services such as:
            – shipping
            – the locks on the canals
            – Pickering and Bruce nuclear Power stations
            – Niagara falls hydro power station
            – impact on Niagara Falls’ revenue from tourism
            – water supply infrastructure

            I suspect the project costs + economic losses of a pumped hydro scheme between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario may exceed the economic benefits.

            A cheaper option would probably be to build nuclear capacity until it supplies all baseload (say 75% of all electricity generation), use conventional hydro to top up peak and intermediate power and, if necessary, add some load following nuclear (as France uses) once nuclear is supplying all baseload and hydro capacity is approaching fully utilised (taking into account capacity margin requirements).

        • David B. Benson says:

          New plan to regulate the water level in Lake Ontario
          http://m.oswegocountynewsnow.com/plan-for-new-regulation-of-st-lawrence-lake-ontario-water/article_660f8b82-bd7c-11e6-a317-675dd3637b8e.html?mode=jqm

          This seems to be dated 2016 Dec 08.

          As I understand the matter, there is little room for a daily elevation change. Maybe 5–10 cm would be ok.

          • Peter Lang says:

            DBB,

            Thanks for that. That puts the kibosh on the large energy storage concept with pumped hydro between Lake Ontario and any other of the Great Lakes.

          • rjsigmund says:

            i’ve got one more question regarding the design of pumped hydro, Peter, that hopefully wont breach any of the intellectual honesty/dishonest guidelines for blog comments…what i’d like to know is what are the criteria used in judging whether the distance between the lower reservoir and upper reservoir of a potential pumped storage site is too great for the proposed project to be viable? for instance, you’ve said that the 100 km distance between Lake Ontario and Lake Huron was too great, and furthermore, that the 40 km distance between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario was also too long unless an intermediate lake were used…earlier, you also questioned the 25 km distance between the Bingham canyon reservoir and the Great Salt Lake, where you also mentioned the cost of the tunnels as an objection..what are other criteria, and how much difference does the height of the minimum head go into that calculation?

          • Peter Lang says:

            rjsigmund,

            what i’d like to know is what are the criteria used in judging whether the distance between the lower reservoir and upper reservoir of a potential pumped storage site is too great for the proposed project to be viable?

            I don’t know of a [particular criteria. The constraints are engineering and economic constraints. Here are some factors that influence these:

            1. The water in the tunnels flows at up to about 3 m/s (the design velocity is a balance between more power at higher flow rate but greater friction losses). The mass of water in the tunnels must to be stopped very quickly in case of emergency shut down. The turbines and power station must be strong enough to do this. That adds cost. The pumps must be strong enough and powerful enough to accelerate the mass of after in the tunnels to their design velocity in a minute to say 5 minutes. The transmission system must have the capacity to provide this power (not usually a constraint because it is the similar power to what the generators supply at full power).

            2. Steel pipes have to be sufficiently thick to withstand the static and dynamic water pressure inside the pipes. So they are a vary high cost component, especially for high head projects. Therefore, tunnels are usually cheaper that surface pipes. Tunnels are a very high cost component of the project. There is still a need for some steel lining in the pipes where water pressure in the tunnels would exceed the weight of rockmass above and near the underground power house.

            3. . The power house is commonly located underground to help constrain the steel pipes against the internal pressure and also enable the turbines to resist the forces. Underground excavation and construction is expensive.

            Pumped hydro plants have a short horizontal distance between upper and lower reservoir for the reasons stated above.

            You might be interested in the desk study of potential pumped hydro sites in Australia. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.437.1231&rep=rep1&type=pdf . It was political and a Greens’ requirement for them agreeing to form an alliance Government with the Australian Labor Party in 2010; so read it with that in mind. This report has been removed from the Department of Environment web site. However, despite the political influences, it does have useful information for those interested in gaining some background on what makes pumped hydro sites feasible or not feasible at a first pass glance.

    • robertok06 says:

      “when i was involved with the opposition to building another nuclear power plant on lake erie in the 80s, i advocated pumped storage as a way to take advantage of the off-peak power already being generated by other regional baseload power plants…”

      Let me ask you a question: have you ever come to realize that your opposition contributed to reducing the life expectancy of thousands of people in the year after that?

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Here is a proposal for a large pumped storage scheme; 80 million cubic meter upper reservoir and ocean for the lower:
    http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/thread/514/biggest-pumped-storage-scheme-scotland

    Read for amusement…

    • David B. Benson says:

      Oops! Upper reservoir would hold about 4.4 billion cubic meters of mostly sea water. The smaller figure given above is the volume of the proposed dam.

  7. David B. Benson says:

    As for smaller and seriously proposed pumped hydro storage projects, nothing seems to be going forth here in the western USA. An example is the highly efficient 1200 MW Klickitat scheme
    http://breakingenergy.com/2014/12/26/pumped-storage-dream-tiny-washington-state-utility-makes-big-pitch/
    which has appeared to be sound for the last 15 years but finally the attempt has been abandoned since no funding can be found, despite low interest rates. I take it that the uncertainty in the future of the west coast electricity market has laid this, and other proposals, to rest.

    • gweberbv says:

      David,

      you clearly need a capacity market or other forms of subsidies to motivate investors to build pumped hydro storage in an electricity market with a significant portion of wind production. Because wind takes away the predictability of price patterns. Probably a cap-and-floor scheme like it is used for the new UK interconnectors would be the best strategy.

      • Peter Lang says:

        gweberbv,

        What you propose is exactly the opposite of the approach that is needed. Give up on wind and solar. Surely you realise by now they can make no significant contribution to world electricity supply, let alone to world energy supply.

        What is needed is not more intervention by governments driven by ideologues’ beliefs. What is needed is for government to remove the piles of regulations that distort markets and create a high risk for investors. Start by removing all incentives for renewables. Minimise regulation and government intervention. Regulations should be aimed at ensuring fair competition, and secure and reliable supply for the long term.

        France did it brilliantly from the 1970’s despite the headwinds of the anti-nuke protest movement. France is the pin-up example the world should follow. But times have changed. What was done back in the 1950-1980’s by governments building, owning and operating the plants can now be done more effectively by the private sector – as long as we have light appropriate regulation that gives confidence to markets and investors that there will be regulatory stability for the expected life of their investments – e.g. 60 to 80 years for modern era nuclear power plants.

  8. John F. Hultquist says:

    An interesting analysis. I’ve been in that pit and, yes, the scale is hard to grasp. As a hypothetical example it is very useful. I’ve also been to the Seneca Pumped Storage facility co-located with the Kinzua Dam, near Warren, Pennsylvania. I was there while the upper hole was being dug.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seneca_Pumped_Storage_Generating_Station

    Two other comments.
    There is a major earthquake zone just east of the pit, running under the town of Sandy, UT., and all along the the base of the steep Wasatch Mountains. Last big activity was in 1600.

    Merry Christmas!
    (or whatever floats your boat)

  9. Euan Mearns says:

    Let us imagine this monster is filled one week when it is windy and emptied the next when it is not. It then needs to generate at 3E^15/ 168 hours = 18GW. So you will need 18 GW of interconnection between Utah and wherever the consumers are. This was same problem as with The Loch Ness Monster that had capacity of 6.8 TWh and held the world record for biggest idea until Roger came along.

    http://euanmearns.com/the-loch-ness-monster-of-energy-storage/

    Distributed generation is great 🙂

    And as an aside, you only get to use your storage twice each month instead of the customary once to twice daily.

    • robertok06 says:

      @Euan
      “And as an aside, you only get to use your storage twice each month instead of the customary once to twice daily.”

      Exactly!… the economics of pumped hydro made/run this way, to balance intermittency on long time scales (weeks to seasonal PV and wind) and take care of surplus is simply not there anymore.
      PH works well on a daily basis, like it has been run in France/UK/Spain as a support to nuclear, the latter being run at full or almost full blast, minimizing load-following at night, and using the surplus of that night a few hours later, during the morning ramp, plus some additional help for the 7pm peak.
      I’ve already mentioned this master thesis at a Norwegian university a couple of times on this subject… it details exactly this financial nonsense… why Norway will never ever be the “green battery” of Europe… no way!

      “Environmental concerns and uncertainties in
      future intercontinental transmission lines, and price volatility induced by solar
      and wind power can also affect future PHS investment decisions. The
      recommendation to policy makers is therefore not to invest in large scale PHS
      capability in Norway at this point, but to conduct further research in order to
      allow for more informed decisions in the future.”

      https://brage.bibsys.no/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/221533/Masterthesis.pdf?sequence=1

      Cheers.

    • Peter Lang says:

      So you will need 18 GW

      Well, there is another huge cost – the cost of the tunnels to provide the flow rate needed to produce 18 GW at minimum head (pit near empty) of just 120 m.

      Very roughly, at 2.5 m/s flow rate, you’d need about 45 tunnels, each 12.7m diameter and 25 km long. Calculate the cost of that! [at a quick guess, roughly $50 billion for the tunnels alone?]

      [Note that’s a simple scaling up of the tunnels for the Tantangara-Blowering pumped hydro scheme which has 870 m minimum head, and 8 GW capacity at minimum head – 18 GW is more than double the capacity and less than 1/7th the minimum head.]

      It’s a pity Roger and Euan don’t take the trouble to learn how to do some of the most basic reality checks on these pumped hydro thought bubbles. I’ve referred both of them to this a number of times, but their comments suggest they have not done so:
      Pumped Hydro Energy Storage – Tantangara-Blowering cost estimate https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/04/05/pumped-hydro-system-cost/

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Why should we waste our time doing reality checks on thought bubbles that are absolutely bonkers?

      • It’s a pity Roger and Euan don’t take the trouble to learn how to do some of the most basic reality checks on these pumped hydro thought bubbles.

        Well, I thought I’d already popped the Bingham bubble when I pointed out its fatal flaw, which of course makes its economics largely irrelevant. As I noted in an earlier comment the post wasn’t about economics anyway. It was simply an attempt to scope out how much untapped hydro storage potential might be present in man-made holes in the ground without worrying too much about costs and engineering.

        Might I suggest, Peter, that to lessen your growing sense of frustration with my unwillingness to spend time that I don’t have costing a project that isn’t going to fly you come up with a cost estimate of your own? This estimate would be of academic interest at this time but might be of more objective use at some point in the future.

        • Peter Lang says:

          Thanks Roger for your reply and happy Christmas to you and Euan.,

          You say:

          I find that Bingham has the potential to store about 3TWh, which would make it by far the largest pumped hydro facility in the world.

          And

          How much will this cost? Again I have no idea, but I have to assume that the cost won’t be prohibitive or the project won’t be viable

          And, in your reply to my comment you defend with:

          It was simply an attempt to scope out how much untapped hydro storage potential might be present in man-made holes in the ground without worrying too much about costs and engineering.

          If you ignore the costs, such posts can be highly misleading for followers who are interested in posts on Energy Matters but don’t have the background to be able to judge whether or not it is a potentially feasible option, as opposed to just another ridiculous thought bubble – like: The Glenmuckloch Pumped Storage Hydro Scheme, Advanced Rail Energy Storage, the KiteGen Power Wing thingy, etc. You don’t need to do a full cost analysis – just some simple reality checks. I’d suggest there is a risk that some who see such posts may use them to discredit Energy Matters generally.

          Well, I thought I’d already popped the Bingham bubble when I pointed out its fatal flaw, which of course makes its economics largely irrelevant.

          The land slide issue is not a “fatal flaw” if the project is viable with that issue addressed (which might be feasible and the solution could, potential, increase the energy storage and enhance the project’s viability).

          that to lessen your growing sense of frustration with my unwillingness to spend time that I don’t have costing a project ….

          First, I didn’t suggest you do a full costing of the project. I suggested you read some background so you are better informed about what the main cost components of pumped hydro projects are and what are the show stoppers. I have suggested on numerous previous occasion that you and Euan read the Tantangara-Blowering Pumped Storage cost estimate post https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/04/05/pumped-hydro-system-cost/ as I expect you would then have a better understanding of what are the more important factors one needs to consider and have some figures you could use for simply factoring to get a ball park estimate, as I have done in comments on this thread (in a couple of minutes for each).

          The obvious show stoppers for the Bingham pit project are
          1. the 25 km length between upper and lower reservoirs and the size of the tunnels needed to supply the flow rates needed
          2. The low minimum head of just 120 m
          3. The large range of head from 120m to 600 m
          4. The fact you want to use intermittent weather dependent energy for pumping and few pump and generation cycles per year instead of using baseload power at night for pumping and 365 generation cycles per year using near full storage capacity – i.e. earning income from sale of say 500 TWh of electricity per year at peak and shoulder price.
          5. Possibly the salt water

          If you are going to write articles on pumped hydro, which I certainly hope you will continue to do, then I’d urge you to do some background research and learn what is most important for financial viability and what is not.

          It can be frustrating that despite many good comments and links provided by readers, it appears you and Euan seldom look at the links and prefer to keep citing your own previous posts.

  10. rjsigmund says:

    robert, i was casually involved in opposition to the nuclear power plant, which the local utility was planning to build based on early 70s plans, which projected a need to grow electrical generation capacty at a 10% annual rate, which is of course nonsense…(exponential growth at that rate would have covered the county in nuclear plants in less than 100 years)..as i pointed out in my original comment, the Perry Nuclear 2 unit was cancelled after it was half constructed by the utility itself because it wasn’t needed…

    as it turns out, steel and other power hungry industry has been continuously leaving the area over the ensuing decades, as the population of Cleveland has shrunk from nearly a million to under 400,000, and we’re still saddled with excess capacity, despite adding no major new plants since..

  11. David B. Benson says:

    Here is a better reference
    https://watercanada.net/2016/plans-to-regulate-water-levels-in-lake-ontario-and-the-st-lawrence-river-move-ahead/

    Yes, the new, so-called natural, plan takes effect this January.

    • rjsigmund says:

      without going too far afield here, i’d have to say that the Lake Ontario plan intends to attempt to stabilize the lake water levels at a certain historical mean; it certainly cannot mean that lake water levels will not fluctuate…the engineers may be able to control the flow out of the lake via the St Lawrence River but they can’t control the other elements that affect the level of the lake, such as drought or deluge, evaporation or the wind…i grew up near Lake Erie and often returned to the lake in my early adulthood, and i’m reasonably sure a meter variation in the level of the lake was not out of the ordinary….the Ohio Geological Survey describes the effect of the wind on the levels of the lake:

      Strong winds blowing for an extended period (several hours or more) not only create waves but can also produce wind set-up, the tilting of a lake’s surface. A few times a year along Lake Erie, storm winds coincide with the lake’s southwest-to-northeast orientation. Southwesterly winds blowing along the lake’s length can pile water up at one end of the lake (Buffalo), leaving the other end (Toledo) with significantly lower water. The reverse can also happen, when nor’easter storms striking the east coast of the United States send winds down Lake Erie from the northeast. When the storm winds subside, water at one end of the lake rolls back towards the other end, like a wave created when a tub of water is tilted—a phenomenon known as a “seiche.” In about twelve hours this rolling wave has traveled to the opposite end of the lake, raising its level from abnormally low to abnormally high. The cycle of sloshing back and forth continues until the lake’s surface returns to equilibrium.

      http://geosurvey.ohiodnr.gov/lake-erie-geology/water-levels

      because of this effect, it’s not uncommon to hear of a low water warning at the port of Toledo, warning large vessels not to attempt to come into port…i’m sure there’s a similar fluctuation on Lake Ontario, which is why i felt confident suggesting that a foot or two of its elevation could be pumped out and later restored without anyone noticing…

      • Peter Lang says:

        i’d have to say that the Lake Ontario plan intends to attempt to stabilize the lake water levels at a certain historical mean.

        That’s not how I understood the links provided by DBB. I understood they are saying they are going to allow more fluctuations so they are similar to what they were historically before the controls implemented in the 1950’s. That does no mean they would seeking to allow an additional man made fluctuation of up to a meter every day of the year. That’s not what I think they mean.

        BTW, I hope you now realise that there is no way that pumped hydro can be economic if the power is to come from intermittent (i.e. weather-dependent) energy sources like wind and solar. The reason is there are not enough generation cycles per year to pay for the cost of the scheme. You need to buy cheap electricity (i.e. off peak) for pumping (say 6 h per night) to supply power during peak periods (about 4.5 h of full power), and you need to generate this 365 days a year to earn sufficient revenue for it to be financially viable.. Even with 365 cycles per year, buying off peak periods and selling at peak times, few pumped hydro schemes are viable now days – as has been demonstrated by the sparsity of new plant’s since the 1980’s.

        • rjsigmund says:

          yes, Peter, i’ve accepted that my wind and pumped hydro scheme for the Great Lakes as put forth in my first comment here was a flight of fancy and not likely economical, as i recognized that in my earlier rejoinder to Roger…my original thought, 30 years ago, was to use pumped hydro from Ontario to the upper lakes, as a way of reducing baseload generation requirements…

          i also agree that in light of the new regulations on Lake Ontario water levels, any kind of pumped hydro scheme involving that lake is probably political impossible, even if it weren’t ruled out by the distances involved…

          i also appreciate you taking the time to work out the economics of that, as the method to do that was always beyond my understanding…back then, my crude method for estimating the amount of water you’d have to move for a pumped hydro project of a given capacity was to extrapolate from the volumes moved through other conventional hydro projects for which figures were available, so i’ve learned quite a bit just from reading your discussions here…

          • Peter Lang says:

            rjsigmund,

            Thank you for your reply. Such a reply is much appreciated and rare on many blog sites. In your comments you have not breached any of the “10 signs of intellectual honesty” and have displayed none of the “10 signs of intellectual dishonesty“. A summary of both is here:
            https://judithcurry.com/2013/04/20/10-signs-of-intellectual-honesty/

            Some others who participate here might do well to consider trying to practice them themselves.

  12. Roberto 6.2 says:

    Roger, thanks for sharing this data, which makes water reservoir in perspective
    I am quite late on this post, however, wanted to add a couple of comments
    I see a lot of progresses, when I look at 2016 compared to 1916, so I do not expect the world be the same during incoming years
    As you know, the world is going to implement a mixed solution depending on what is/will be the most cost effective in the specific situation
    I see 3 groups of reservoirs (my “good friend” Roberto would add a 4th one, but I would not)
    Physic reservoirs: hydraulic potential of liquid being at higher altitude; kinetic energy of gas (liquid or just compressed air), heated rock or similar
    Electrons reservoirs: all types of electrochemical storage devices
    Bound reservoirs: H-H, C-H
    Sure, all systems have a cost that lower the EROEI of the RE, but I am sure the cost will improve going forward and by the way we can start, since we already have positive EROEI (although not the ones expected with KitGen)
    My 6.2 kWp PV rooftop system is going to have a Lithium Ion battery and my home is going to be served by local utility, which will ask for a cost regardless of the consumption
    The 10-flats building nearby is going to burn bio-gas to produce electricity and heat/cool, while maintaining a service agreement with local utility, which will ask for a cost regardless of the consumption
    The gym where I go to sweat is going to burn wood or bio-gas
    The firm over there is going to produce some kWh/heat/cool and is going to use a service from the local utility
    The local utility is going to buy RE on the market (the exceeding production from all prosumers and total production from pure producers), move it onward to their customers and also store some GWh in the form that is going to be the most cost effective to their specific situation (H2, liquid air …) and will provide for grid stability by some MWh of electrochemical storage devices. The utility will also swap some kWh from the reservoirs of their customers when needed and when customers will have them available and some of the pure producers will turn on their plants ‘on demand’ consuming water reservoirs or wood or bio-gas or …
    I am sure that you know this is going to happen and I am also sure that almost all readers of this blog would prefer a simple configuration with just a lot of nuclear power plants around the world … but I prefer complexity, in this case and my “good friend” Roberto will have to accept my view, rather than convince me by using the medical use of radiation

    regards
    Roberto (the PV one)

  13. Roberto 6.2 says:

    Roger, thanks for sharing this data, which makes water reservoir in perspective
    I am quite late on this post, however, wanted to add a couple of comments
    I see a lot of progresses, when I look at 2016 compared to 1916, so I do not expect the world be the same during incoming years
    As you know, the world is going to implement a mixed solution depending on what is/will be the most cost effective in the specific situation
    I see 3 groups of reservoirs (my “good friend” Roberto would add a 4th one, but I would not)
    Physic reservoirs: hydraulic potential of liquid being at higher altitude; kinetic energy of gas (liquid or just compressed air), heated rock or similar
    Electrons reservoirs: all types of electrochemical storage devices
    Bound reservoirs: H-H, C-H
    Sure, all systems have a cost that lower the EROEI of the RE, but I am sure the cost will improve going forward and by the way we can start, since we already have positive EROEI (although not the ones expected with KitGen)
    My 6.2 kWp PV rooftop system is going to have a Lithium Ion battery and my home is going to be served by local utility, which will ask for a cost regardless of the consumption
    The 10-flats building nearby is going to burn biogas to produce electricity and heat/cool, while maintaining a service agreement with local utility, which will ask for a cost regardless of the consumption
    The gym where I go to sweat is going to burn wood or biogas
    The firm over there is going to produce some kWh/heat/cool and is going to use a service from the local utility
    The local utility is going to buy RE on the market (the exceeding production from all prosumers and total production from pure producers), move it onward to their customers and also store some GWh in the form that is going to be the most cost effective to their specific situation (H2, liquid air …) and will provide for grid stability by some MWh of electrochemical storage devices. The utility will also buy some kWh from the reservoirs of their customers when needed and when customers will have them available and some of the pure producers will turn on their plants ‘on demand’ consuming water reservoirs or wood or biogas or …
    I am sure that you know this is going to happen and I am also sure that almost all readers of this blog would prefer a simple configuration with just a lot of nuclear power plants around the world … but I prefer complexity, in this case

    Regards
    Roberto (the other one)

  14. Sturle says:

    This cannot possibly be the largest pumped hydro facility in the World. The Blåsjø reservoir in Norway has a capacity of 7.7 TWh. The North Sea Link undersea cable between Norway and Blyth in England, will be connected to Kvilldal Hydroelectric Power Station, one of the three power plants which are supplied from this reservoir. The pumps are located at Saurdal Hydroelectric Power Station, and mostly supplied by surplus wind power imported from Denmark.

    • Roger Andrews says:

      Blåsjø is a conventional hydro, not a pumped hydro facility. Norway has very little pumped hydro capacity.

      http://euanmearns.com/how-much-wind-and-solar-can-norways-reservoirs-balance/

      • Thinkstoomuch says:

        Roger,

        Saurdal Hydroelectric Power Station does have a pumped storage capability. Well, extremely limited, if I am reading stuff correctly. Chancy that. 😉

        2 of 4 turbines can be reversed. So based on the max output of 640MW it can suck up 320 MWh(?). According to Wiki they averaged absorbing 1.7 GWh a year from 2009-2012. Last update of Wiki 5 years old kind of implies its real world importance to anybody.

        A few orders of magnitude smaller than your thought experiment. Though I can’t find where they get the water to pump uphill or just about anything else other than above. (More due to my language inadequacy’s than anything else probably. 🙁 )

        Another example of how/what you *measure matters*.

        Though I am open to any future information by Sturle (or anyone else) to correct what little I can find or understand.

        T2M

      • Sturle says:

        The pumps to Blåsjø and other Norwegian dams can easily be upgraded, and new pumps installed at other power plants, but this is not profitable at the moment. The power price in Norway vary very little during the day and between seasons. Some plants in have pumps to transfer water from lower dams with a large rain field and very little regulation capacity, to higher dams with high regulation capacity and a low area to collect rain from, making what essentially would be a run-of-river hydro into seasonal storage. Even multi-year storage.

        Profitability may change when NORD.LINK and NSL come online in 2020 and 2021, and even NorthConnect in 2022. With those cables online, the price in Norway is likely to become more variable. We’ll see if it is enough, or if it is enough to regulate production up and down as now.

        Still, even with low installed pump capacity, Blåsjø is by far larger than Bingham Canyon, and it is pumped hydro.

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