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FAST Grand Prize Winners Make Progress on Pumped Storage Research

Dec. 9, 2019

They each won a slice of the $550,000 cash and in-kind support prize pool for their innovative ideas to accelerate the historically slow process of commissioning pumped-storage hydropower projects. That was in October. So how is their work progressing?

We decided to ask. We’re following the grand prize winners of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Water Power Technologies Office’s Furthering Advancements to Shorten Time (FAST) Commissioning for Pumped-Storage Hydropower Prize.

Here’s what we learned from three of the teams about their efforts to shorten the time, cost, and risk associated with commissioning pumped-storage hydropower (PSH).

Accelerating PSH Construction with Steel Dams

Team Wittmeyer-Dasgupta of the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) won a FAST Prize for a modular steel concept for dams that reduces costs by one-third and cuts construction schedules in half.

Since winning their prize, the team has examined the potential of using steel dam designs for the upper Pearl Hill PSH reservoir in Washington and the upper and lower reservoirs at the Gordon Butte PSH facility in Montana. Before developing preliminary steel dam designs, the team plans to have discussions with the developers and lead architecture and engineering companies responsible for these facilities. 

Team Wittmeyer-Dasgupta has also investigated whether adding steel-dam PSH facilities at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico and at Fort Bliss Military Reservation in New Mexico and Texas could help these military installations meet their net-zero-energy goals. Both are located in regions with high solar photovoltaic potential and excellent topographic relief for closed-loop PSH.

Using Modern Tunnel Boring Machines for Underground Pumped Storage

The Nelson Energy-Midwest Energy Recycling team won its FAST prize for proposing the use of tunnel boring machines for underground excavation, which can reduce costs and decrease excavation time by 50%.

Since October, the team has completed a scope of work for a feasibility study at Granite Falls, Minnesota, which will serve as a roadmap for potential project investors.

Next steps? Refining the conceptual design and cost estimate, as well as identifying a water source for the closed-system project.

Reducing PSH Excavation Duration, Cost, and Risk

The JT Livingston Team won its FAST prize for tunnel excavation innovations that will reduce PSH construction times, cost, and risks by up to 50%.

“Our team has determined that long-duration, high-capacity storage is an essential underpinning for high-renewables penetration of our power-generation resources," said team lead J. Tracy Livingston. "We are tackling the hurdles to PSH project implementations because PSH is the least-cost and only mature long-duration storage technology."

Since receiving the award, the team has been communicating with mining equipment vendors, PSH equipment suppliers, and PSH demonstration prospective project offtakers about technology and process innovations developed under FAST. The team has also developed a generator "dispatch" model to characterize utility service areas under high and full renewables-penetration scenarios, researched battery use in Nebraska and California, and created a PSH project financial model.

Next steps to implementing the team’s proposed PSH time reductions include characterizing underground rock in PSH demonstration project tunnels, which is key to gaining stakeholder support.