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Storing Power



Terence Cardwell

There has been so much talk and false information about Hydro Electric Power Stations, pump storage and System battery storage that I felt it was time to put the record straight.

Some of the most incorrect and misleading information is from self-appointed experts who have made all sorts of ridiculous statements, as well as from some politicians who either live in fairy land or are deliberately lying. You decide.

Without doubt the Snowy Mountain Hydro Electric Scheme is the greatest project Australia has ever undertaken. A magnificent project that the governments of today would be incapable of matching. Why? Because they lack the vision, the courage and the foresight to plan and create such a project. The money that should be put into this type of project being wasted on almost useless Wind and Solar Farm subsidies.

Prior to the Snowy scheme’s construction nearly all the water from the Snowy Mountains in the Australian Alps flowed down through mountainous and almost uninhabited country until discharging onto the river flats of East Gippsland. It flowed, wasted, into the sea, while the inland regions of NSW on the inland side of the Australian Alps desperately required water for irrigation.

After a great deal of planning the Snowy River Scheme was created with primary purpose of turning the waters inland as well as maintain a flow to the Snowy River. The ability to generate hydro-electricity was a major bonus to the original plan.

Water from melting snow and rainfall flows into the Snowy River and its tributaries at high elevations and is diverted inland to the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers irrigation areas. It flows through two major tunnel systems driven through the Continental Divide of the Snowy Mountains. The water falls 800 metres and travels through large hydro-electric power stations which generate power, generally for peak-load, for New South Wales (two thirds) and Victoria (one third) and small amount for the ACT. The total installed capacity is 3.772 Gigawatts. 

The added bonus of the Hydro electric generators is; They not only made it possible to supply cheap power for the states but also enabled load-sharing of the spinning reserve of the power supply grid system. Hydro Electric generators can be run up to full load in two minutes. No expansion problems, no fuel feed problems, just a quiet smooth run up to synchronise and then to full load if required.

Also the lower Hydro stations can run three of their generators in reverse and (when available) pump the water back up to the higher levels. But this does not come free and requires 25% more power than they would generate. However this is offset by the improved efficiency of the thermal coal fired power stations supplying the power. When demand is low in the early mornings power is supplied to the Snowy Hydro units to pump the water back up to higher level allowing the thermal power station to operate under optimal conditions, i.e. by increasing the unit load the efficiency is increased and that gain is offset against the 25% loss of pumping the water back up. This can reduce the overall loss to as low as 12% approx..

Pumped Hydro has always existed at the Snowy but it is only available when the water is available and that is after snow melt or rainfall. By mid to late summer there is little to spare.

The idea that pumped Hydro is some sort of new saviour is Green day-dreaming. Ultimately the power to be stored still has to come from thermal power stations. Without them there would be no power to drive the Hydro pump/generators. And there must be sufficient water or snow falling on the Snowy mountains to be able to do it.

Increasing the storage capacity may make a slight improvement but knocking down the Thermal power Stations without building replacement new ones is insane to say the least.  The grid system must always have a spinning reserve of 20% of load. This has now gone and the power supply companies have moved us much closer to blackouts and power failures that most certainly will soon be occurring in South Australia and Victoria.

Instead of wasting so many billions of dollars on unreliable Wind generators and solar farms, the State and Federal governments could build the latest high efficiency, low emission (HELE) power stations of say 4 x 660 Megawatts for two billion dollars each.

The idea of building battery storage instead is ludicrous.

The battery bank storage proposed for S.A. will draw power from the grid to charge the batteries. It will supply less than 100 Megawatts for ONE HOUR. For much the same construction cost a thermal generator with 4 x 660 Megawatt generators could supply 2600 Megawatts indefinitely.

Environmental zealots say that “coal is finished”. In fact there are over 700 coal-fired power stations being built right now in India, China, USA, Europe and South America.

The People of Australia may start to listen when they are sitting in the dark with no power for their employment or business. Maybe then it might sink in that they have been lied to.

One tip I can give to residents in the southern states is to buy a 5 Kilowatt portable generator. There is every possibility you will need it.

Terence Cardwell was with the Electricity Commission of N.S.W. for 26 years in a number of positions including the commissioning and in charge of the Coal Fired Thermal Generators at Tallawarra, Wallerawang and Munmorah Power Stations. His last commission was at the Munmorah Power Station near Newcastle, with four, very large, 350 MW power generating units.