Infrastructure Investment Category:  Electrical

Project Name:  Wildflower Pump Hydroelectric Storage Plant

Location:  Southeast Oklahoma

Function:  Wildflower will deliver power into three electrical grids: ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), SPP (Southwest Power Pool) and MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator), providing peak power that will help reduce energy shortfalls  as well as ancillary services.   Pumped storage plants are environmentally friendly and can respond quickly during peak load times, thereby increasing grid stability and optimizing the electrical production capability of all the power plants in a system.

What is Pumped Storage Hydroelectricty?   The introduction new technologies including wind energy has created a demand for pumped storage, which uses off-peak electrical power to run generators that pump water stored in a lower elevation reservoir to a nearby reservoir located about 1,000 feet higher.  By shifting the water between the two reservoirs, a closed loop system is created which can provide multiple hours of energy to balance the electrical grid.

By its very nature, wind energy production fluctuates greatly, and pumped storage is a way to instantaneously flatten out load fluctuations (often within seconds) , absorbing surplus energy and storing it until it’s needed.  This allows “traditional” power plants – like coal-fired plants – to continue operating at steady efficiency while reducing the need for “peaking” power plants. 

Bottom line:  Pumped storage is the only technology available today that allows electrical users and consumers to receive the full benefits of wind power.  It is the largest capacity and most cost-effective form of grid energy storage available.

Pumped storage isn’t new – it’s been around since the 1920s, and today 40 pumped storage projects are operating in the U.S.  They account for about 16% of renewable energy capacity in the U.S.  – nearly 2% of the nation’s energy capacity.

Bulk Storage Capacity:  Currently, electrical grid operators in the Western U.S., where wind technology holds the greatest promise, have no reliable means – short of batteries at the point of usage – of storing excess wind energy.  For example, peak wind energy generation often occurs at night, when demand is low.  Conversely, not enough power is generated to supply on-demand capacity at times when wind or solar plants can’t generate due to weather conditions.  Wind can start and stop abruptly.  Excess power produced by night winds has to be stored for when it is needed.  With federal and state mandates requiring increasing use of newer technologies like wind, the demand for bulk storage has never been greater.

The solution:   Only pumped storage stores excess power, provides ancillary services quickly and can generate for a longer time period than any other type of storage system.

Investment Opportunities in Pumped Storage:  The Hydroelectric Industry in the U.S. proposes to more than double pumped storage capacity in the near future, with FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) having recently issued 23 preliminary permits for new pumped storage projects, which will result in about 15,000 MW of new pumped storage capacity.  Applications pending approval by FERC could provide an additional 16,000 MW of capacity;  but in order to meet the 2030 national goal of generating 20% of electricity from wind, an additional 50,000 MW of peaking generation will be needed.  The DOE estimates that pumped storage hydro could fulfill 30-60% of storage capacity needed, thereby reducing the need for additional fossil-fuel derived peaking generation.