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Water-Pumping Facilities Could Be Key to NW's Renewable Future

Pumped hydro storage can be used to store energy from renewable energy sources, like wind and solar. (Wikimedia Commons)
Pumped hydro storage can be used to store energy from renewable energy sources, like wind and solar. (Wikimedia Commons)
December 13, 2019

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – As the Pacific Northwest eyes using more renewable energy, one big question arises – how will it be stored?

New research from the firm Energy and Environmental Economics finds the region's current storage capacity could fall short by 10,000 megawatts by 2030.

One solution could be pumped hydro storage facilities, which are made up of upper and lower reservoirs.

Sources such as wind and solar pump water to the upper reservoir, creating stored potential energy.

Erik Steimle, vice president of project development at Rye Development, says when users need energy – but the wind stops blowing or the sun isn't shining – energy is released into the lower reservoir.

"If we're not going to rely on fossil fuels for energy resources, then we're going to need storage,” he points out. “And in terms of storage, the Pacific Northwest is blessed with geology and geography to support what is the oldest and most widely used form of energy storage in the world."

Rye Development has proposed a 394 megawatt facility near Klamath Falls that could power 400,000 homes when running at full capacity.

But these facilities do have some drawbacks. They require large upfront costs and take three to four years to build.

Steimle says pumped hydro facilities could last as long as 100 years, which could make them cost effective for ratepayers in the long term.

Another option with storage potential is the lithium-ion battery. But Steimle notes pumped hydro has a lower carbon footprint than lithium.

"Lithium ion has a fairly complex supply chain, relies a lot on mining, and we don't have, of course, a domestic source of lithium,” he explains. “We'd be looking at long-term sourcing elsewhere in the globe."

Steimle says an array of different storage methods is needed, especially as the state has to work to meet potential shortages soon. But he maintains pumped hydro will be a big part of the long-term storage plans.

"It's going to be a vital component, and I think you'll see a number of these projects show up in the next decade or so, as we move towards meeting our 100% clean electricity goals by 2050," he states.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR