Pumped-storage hydroelectricity

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Diagram of the TVA pumped storage facility at Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant in Tennessee, United States
Shaded-relief topo map of the Taum Sauk pumped storage plant in Missouri, United States. The lake on the mountain is built upon a flat surface, requiring a dam around the entire perimeter.

Pumped-storage hydroelectricity (PSH), or pumped hydroelectric energy storage (PHES), is a type of hydroelectric energy storage used by electric power systems for load balancing. The method stores energy in the form of gravitational potential energy of water, pumped from a lower elevation reservoir to a higher elevation. Low-cost surplus off-peak electric power is typically used to run the pumps. During periods of high electrical demand, the stored water is released through turbines to produce electric power. Although the losses of the pumping process make the plant a net consumer of energy overall, the system increases revenue by selling more electricity during periods of peak demand, when electricity prices are highest. If the upper lake collects significant rainfall or is fed by a river then the plant may be a net energy producer in the manner of a traditional hydroelectric plant.

Principle of the pumped storage power plant as an energy storage system

Pumped-storage hydroelectricity allows energy from intermittent sources (such as solar, wind) and other renewables, or excess electricity from continuous base-load sources (such as coal or nuclear) to be saved for periods of higher demand.[1][2] The reservoirs used with pumped storage can be quite small when contrasted with the lakes of conventional hydroelectric plants of similar power capacity, and generating periods are often less than half a day.

Pumped storage is by far the largest-capacity form of grid energy storage available, and, as of 2020, the United States Department of Energy Global Energy Storage Database reports that PSH accounts for around 95% of all active tracked storage installations worldwide, with a total installed throughput capacity of over 181 GW, of which about 29 GW are in the United States, and a total installed storage capacity of over 1.6 TWh, of which about 250 GWh are in the United States.[3] The round-trip energy efficiency of PSH varies between 70%–80%,[4][5][6][7] with some sources claiming up to 87%.[8]

The main requirement for PSH is hilly country. The global greenfield pumped hydro atlas[9] lists more than 600,000 potential sites around the world, which is about 100 times more than needed to support 100% renewable electricity. Most are closed-loop systems away from rivers. Areas of natural beauty and new dams on rivers can be avoided because of the very large number of potential sites. Some projects utilise existing reservoirs (dubbed "bluefield") such as the 350 Gigawatt-hour Snowy 2.0 scheme[10] under construction in Australia. Some recently proposed projects propose to take advantage of "brownfield" locations such as disused mines such as the Kidston project[11] under construction in Australia.[12]

Water requirements for PSH are small:[13] about 1 gigalitre of initial fill water per gigawatt-hour of storage. This water is recycled uphill and back downhill between the two reservoirs for many decades, but evaporation losses (beyond what rainfall and any inflow from local waterways provide) must be replaced. Land requirements are also small: about 10 hectares per gigawatt-hour of storage,[13] which is much smaller than the land occupied by the solar and windfarms that the storage might support. Closed loop (off-river) pumped hydro storage has the smallest carbon emissions[14] per unit of storage of all candidates for large-scale energy storage.


Basic principle[edit]

Power distribution, over a day, of a pumped-storage hydroelectricity facility. Green represents power consumed in pumping; red is power generated.

At times of low electrical demand, excess generation capacity is used to pump water into the upper reservoir. When there is higher demand, water is released back into the lower reservoir through a turbine, generating electricity. Reversible turbine/generator assemblies act as combined pump and turbine generator units (usually Francis turbine designs).[15] Variable speed operation further optimizes the round trip efficiency in pumped hydro storage plants.[16][17] In micro-PSH applications, a group of pumps and Pump As Turbine (PAT) could be implemented respectively for pumping and generating phases.[18] The same pump could be used in both modes by changing rotational direction and speed:[18] the operation point in pumping usually differs from the operation point in PAT mode.

Types: natural or man-made reservoirs[edit]

In open-loop systems, pure pumped-storage plants store water in an upper reservoir with no natural inflows, while pump-back plants utilize a combination of pumped storage and conventional hydroelectric plants with an upper reservoir that is replenished in part by natural inflows from a stream or river. Plants that do not use pumped storage are referred to as conventional hydroelectric plants; conventional hydroelectric plants that have significant storage capacity may be able to play a similar role in the electrical grid as pumped storage if appropriately equipped.

Economic efficiency[edit]

Taking into account conversion losses and evaporation losses from the exposed water surface, energy recovery of 70–80% or more can be achieved.[19] This technique is currently the most cost-effective means of storing large amounts of electrical energy, but capital costs and the necessity of appropriate geography are critical decision factors in selecting pumped-storage plant sites.

The relatively low energy density of pumped storage systems requires either large flows and/or large differences in height between reservoirs. The only way to store a significant amount of energy is by having a large body of water located relatively near, but as high as possible above, a second body of water. In some places this occurs naturally, in others one or both bodies of water were man-made. Projects in which both reservoirs are artificial and in which no natural inflows are involved with either reservoir are referred to as "closed loop" systems.[20]

These systems may be economical because they flatten out load variations on the power grid, permitting thermal power stations such as coal-fired plants and nuclear power plants that provide base-load electricity to continue operating at peak efficiency, while reducing the need for "peaking" power plants that use the same fuels as many base-load thermal plants, gas and oil, but have been designed for flexibility rather than maximal efficiency. Hence pumped storage systems are crucial when coordinating large groups of heterogeneous generators. Capital costs for pumped-storage plants are relatively high, although this is somewhat mitigated by their proven long service life of decades - and in some cases over a century,[21][22] which is three to five times longer than utility-scale batteries. When electricity prices become negative, pumped hydro operators may earn twice - when "buying" the electricity to pump the water to the upper reservoir at negative spot prices and again when selling the electricity at a later time when prices are high.

The upper reservoir (Llyn Stwlan) and dam of the Ffestiniog Pumped Storage Scheme in North Wales. The lower power station has four water turbines which generate 360 MW of electricity within 60 seconds of the need arising.

Along with energy management, pumped storage systems help stabilize electrical network frequency and provide reserve generation. Thermal plants are much less able to respond to sudden changes in electrical demand that potentially cause frequency and voltage instability. Pumped storage plants, like other hydroelectric plants, can respond to load changes within seconds.

The most important use for pumped storage has traditionally been to balance baseload powerplants, but they may also be used to abate the fluctuating output of intermittent energy sources. Pumped storage provides a load at times of high electricity output and low electricity demand, enabling additional system peak capacity. In certain jurisdictions, electricity prices may be close to zero or occasionally negative on occasions that there is more electrical generation available than there is load available to absorb it. Although at present this is rarely due to wind or solar power alone, increased use of such generation will increase the likelihood of those occurrences.[citation needed] It is particularly likely that pumped storage will become especially important as a balance for very large-scale photovoltaic and wind generation.[23] Increased long-distance transmission capacity combined with significant amounts of energy storage will be a crucial part of regulating any large-scale deployment of intermittent renewable power sources.[24] The high non-firm renewable electricity penetration in some regions supplies 40% of annual output, but 60% may be reached before additional storage is necessary.[25][26][27]

Small-scale facilities[edit]

Smaller pumped storage plants cannot achieve the same economies of scale as larger ones, but some do exist, including a recent 13 MW project in Germany. Shell Energy has proposed a 5 MW project in Washington State. Some have proposed small pumped storage plants in buildings, although these are not yet economical.[28] Also, it is difficult to fit large reservoirs into the urban landscape (and the fluctuating water level may make them unsuitable for recreational use).[28] Nevertheless, some authors defend the technological simplicity and security of water supply as important externalities.[28]


The first use of pumped storage was in 1907 in Switzerland, at the Engeweiher pumped storage facility near Schaffhausen, Switzerland.[29][30] In the 1930s reversible hydroelectric turbines became available. This apparatus could operate both as turbine generators and in reverse as electric motor-driven pumps. The latest in large-scale engineering technology is variable speed machines for greater efficiency. These machines operate in synchronization with the network frequency when generating, but operate asynchronously (independent of the network frequency) when pumping.

The first use of pumped-storage in the United States was in 1930 by the Connecticut Electric and Power Company, using a large reservoir located near New Milford, Connecticut, pumping water from the Housatonic River to the storage reservoir 70 metres (230 ft) above.[31]

Worldwide use[edit]

Kruonis Pumped Storage Plant, Lithuania

In 2009, world pumped storage generating capacity was 104 GW,[32] while other sources claim 127 GW, which comprises the vast majority of all types of utility grade electric storage.[33] The EU had 38.3 GW net capacity (36.8% of world capacity) out of a total of 140 GW of hydropower and representing 5% of total net electrical capacity in the EU. Japan had 25.5 GW net capacity (24.5% of world capacity).[32]

In 2010 the United States had 21.5 GW of pumped storage generating capacity (20.6% of world capacity).[34] PSH contributed 21,073 GWh of energy in 2020 in the United States, but −5,321 GWh (net) because more energy is consumed in pumping than is generated.[35] Nameplate pumped storage capacity had grown to 21.6 GW by 2014, with pumped storage comprising 97% of grid-scale energy storage in the United States. As of late 2014, there were 51 active project proposals with a total of 39 GW of new nameplate capacity across all stages of the FERC licensing process for new pumped storage hydroelectric plants in the United States, but no new plants were currently under construction in the United States at the time.[36][37]

The five largest operational pumped-storage plants are listed below (for a detailed list see List of pumped-storage hydroelectric power stations):

Station Country Location Installed generation
capacity (MW)
Storage capacity (GWh) Refs
Fengning Pumped Storage Power Station China 41°39′58″N 116°31′44″E / 41.66611°N 116.52889°E / 41.66611; 116.52889 (Fengning Pumped Storage Power Station) 3,600 40 [38][39]
Bath County Pumped Storage Station United States 38°12′32″N 79°48′00″W / 38.20889°N 79.80000°W / 38.20889; -79.80000 (Bath County Pumped-storage Station) 3,003 24 [40]
Guangdong Pumped Storage Power Station China 23°45′52″N 113°57′12″E / 23.76444°N 113.95333°E / 23.76444; 113.95333 (Guangzhou Pumped Storage Power Station) 2,400 [41][42]
Huizhou Pumped Storage Power Station China 23°16′07″N 114°18′50″E / 23.26861°N 114.31389°E / 23.26861; 114.31389 (Huizhou Pumped Storage Power Station) 2,400 [43][44][45][46]
Okutataragi Pumped Storage Power Station Japan 35°14′13″N 134°49′55″E / 35.23694°N 134.83194°E / 35.23694; 134.83194 (Okutataragi Hydroelectric Power Station) 1,932 [47]
Ludington Pumped Storage Power Plant United States 43°53′37″N 86°26′43″W / 43.89361°N 86.44528°W / 43.89361; -86.44528 (Ludington Pumped Storage Power Plant) 1,872 20 [48][49]
Note: this table shows the power-generating capacity in megawatts as is usual for power stations. However, the overall energy-storage capacity in megawatt-hours (MWh) is a different intrinsic property and can not be derived from the above-given figures.
Countries with the largest power pumped-storage hydro capacity in 2017[50]
Country Pumped storage
generating capacity
Total installed
generating capacity
Pumped storage/
total generating
China 32.0 1646.0 1.9%
Japan 28.3 322.2 8.8%
United States 22.6 1074.0 2.1%
Spain 8.0 106.7 7.5%
Italy 7.1 117.0 6.1%
India 6.8 308.8 2.2%
Germany 6.5 204.1 3.2%
Switzerland 6.4 19.6 32.6%
France 5.8 129.3 4.5%
Austria 4.7 25.2 18.7%
South Korea 4.7 103.0 4.6%
Portugal 3.5 19.6 17.8%
Ukraine 3.1 56.9 5.4%
South Africa 2.9 56.6 5.1%
United Kingdom 2.8 94.6 3.0%
Australia 2.6 67.0 3.9%
Russia 2.2 263.5 0.8%
Poland 1.7 37.3 4.6%
Thailand 1.4 41.0 3.4%
Bulgaria 1.4 12.5 9.6%
Belgium 1.2 21.2 5.7%


Australia has 15GW of pumped storage under construction or in development. Examples include:

In June 2018 the Australian federal government announced that 14 sites had been identified in Tasmania for pumped storage hydro, with the potential of adding 4.8GW to the national grid if a second interconnector beneath Bass Strait was constructed.

The Snowy 2.0 project will link two existing dams in the New South Wales' Snowy Mountains to provide 2,000 MW of capacity and 350,000 MWh of storage.[52]

In September 2022, a pumped hydroelectric storage (PHES) scheme was announced at Pioneer-Burdekin in central Queensland that has the potential to be the largest PHES in the world at 5 GW.


There are 9 power stations capable of pumping with a total installed capacity of 1344 MW and an average annual production of 2247 GWh. The pumped storage hydropower in Norway is built a bit differently from the rest of the world. They are designed for seasonal pumping. Most of them can also not cycle the water endlessly, but only pump and reuse once. The reason for this is the design of the tunnels and the elevation of lower and upper reservoirs. Some, like Nygard power station, pump water from several river intakes up to a reservoir.

The largest one, Saurdal, which is part of the Ulla-Førre complex, has four 160 MW Francis turbines, but only two are reversible. The lower reservoir is at a higher elevation than the station itself, and thus the water pumped up can only be used once before it has to flow to the next station, Kvilldal, further down the tunnel system. And in addition to the lower reservoir, it will receive water that can be pumped up from 23 river/stream and small reservoir intakes. Some of which will have already gone through a smaller power station on its way.

Pump-back hydroelectric dams[edit]

Conventional hydroelectric dams may also make use of pumped storage in a hybrid system that both generates power from water naturally flowing into the reservoir as well as storing water pumped back to the reservoir from below the dam. The Grand Coulee Dam in the United States was expanded with a pump-back system in 1973.[53] Existing dams may be repowered with reversing turbines thereby extending the length of time the plant can operate at capacity. Optionally a pump back powerhouse such as the Russell Dam (1992) may be added to a dam for increased generating capacity. Making use of an existing dam's upper reservoir and transmission system can expedite projects and reduce costs.

In January 2019, the State Grid Corporation of China announced plans to invest US$5.7 billion in five pumped hydro storage plants with a total 6 GW capacity, to be located in Hebei, Jilin, Zhejiang, Shandong provinces, and in Xinjiang Autonomous Region. China is seeking to build 40 GW of pumped hydro capacity installed by 2020.[54]

Potential technologies[edit]


Pumped storage plants can operate with seawater, although there are additional challenges compared to using fresh water, such as saltwater corrosion and barnacle growth.[55] Inaugurated in 1966, the 240 MW Rance tidal power station in France can partially work as a pumped-storage station. When high tides occur at off-peak hours, the turbines can be used to pump more seawater into the reservoir than the high tide would have naturally brought in. It is the only large-scale power plant of its kind.

In 1999, the 30 MW Yanbaru project in Okinawa was the first demonstration of seawater pumped storage. It has since been decommissioned. A 300 MW seawater-based Lanai Pumped Storage Project was considered for Lanai, Hawaii, and seawater-based projects have been proposed in Ireland.[56] A pair of proposed projects in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile would use 600 MW of photovoltaic solar (Skies of Tarapacá) together with 300 MW of pumped storage (Mirror of Tarapacá) lifting seawater 600 metres (2,000 ft) up a coastal cliff.[57][58]

Freshwater coastal reservoirs[edit]

Freshwater from the river floods is stored in the sea area replacing seawater by constructing coastal reservoirs. The stored river water is pumped to uplands by constructing a series of embankment canals and pumped storage hydroelectric stations for the purpose of energy storage, irrigation, industrial, municipal, rejuvenation of exploited rivers, etc. These multipurpose coastal reservoir projects offer massive pumped-storage hydroelectric potential to utilize variable and intermittent solar and wind power that are carbon-neutral, clean, and renewable energy sources.[59]

Underground reservoirs[edit]

The use of underground reservoirs has been investigated.[60] Recent examples include the proposed Summit project in Norton, Ohio, the proposed Maysville project in Kentucky (underground limestone mine), and the Mount Hope project in New Jersey, which was to have used a former iron mine as the lower reservoir. The proposed energy storage at the Callio site in Pyhäjärvi (Finland) would utilize the deepest base metal mine in Europe, with 1,450 metres (4,760 ft) elevation difference.[61] Several new underground pumped storage projects have been proposed. Cost-per-kilowatt estimates for these projects can be lower than for surface projects if they use existing underground mine space. There are limited opportunities involving suitable underground space, but the number of underground pumped storage opportunities may increase if abandoned coal mines prove suitable.[62]

In Bendigo, Victoria, Australia, the Bendigo Sustainability Group has proposed the use of the old gold mines under Bendigo for Pumped Hydro Energy Storage.[63] Bendigo has the greatest concentration of deep shaft hard rock mines anywhere in the world with over 5,000 shafts sunk under Bendigo in the second half of the 19th Century. The deepest shaft extends 1,406 metres vertically underground. A recent pre-feasibility study has shown the concept to be viable with a generation capacity of 30 MW and a run time of 6 hours using a water head of over 750 metres.

US-based start-up Quidnet Energy is exploring using abandoned oil and gas wells for pumped storage. If successful they hope to scale up, utilizing some of the 3 million abandoned wells in the US.[64][65]

Decentralised systems[edit]

Small (or micro) applications for pumped storage could be built on streams and within infrastructures, such as drinking water networks[66] and artificial snow-making infrastructures. In this regard, a storm-water basin has been concretely implemented as a cost-effective solution for a water reservoir in a micro-pumped hydro energy storage.[18] Such plants provide distributed energy storage and distributed flexible electricity production and can contribute to the decentralized integration of intermittent renewable energy technologies, such as wind power and solar power. Reservoirs that can be used for small pumped-storage hydropower plants could include[67] natural or artificial lakes, reservoirs within other structures such as irrigation, or unused portions of mines or underground military installations. In Switzerland one study suggested that the total installed capacity of small pumped-storage hydropower plants in 2011 could be increased by 3 to 9 times by providing adequate policy instruments.[67]

Underwater reservoirs[edit]

In March 2017 the research project StEnSea (Storing Energy at Sea) announced their successful completion of a four-week test of a pumped storage underwater reservoir. In this configuration, a hollow sphere submerged and anchored at great depth acts as the lower reservoir, while the upper reservoir is the enclosing body of water. Electricity is created when water is let in via a reversible turbine integrated into the sphere. During off-peak hours the turbine changes direction and pumps the water out again, using "surplus" electricity from the grid. The quantity of power created when water is let in grows proportionally to the height of the column of water above the sphere, in other words: the deeper the sphere is located, the more densely it can store energy. As such the energy storage capacity of the submerged reservoir is not governed by the gravitational energy in the traditional sense, but rather by the vertical pressure variation.

Home use[edit]

Using a pumped-storage system of cisterns and small generators, pico hydro may also be effective for "closed loop" home energy generation systems.[68][69]

Hydraulic Fracturing[edit]

Using hydraulic fracturing pressure can be stored underground in impermeable strata such as shale.[70] The shale used contains no hydrocarbons.[71]


One idea to reduce pumping energy requirements is to use electricity to split water at a low elevation, and then pipe the lighter-than-air hydrogen to a high elevation where it could be burned with atmospheric oxygen to produce water. This high-elevation water could then be returned to the low elevation, potentially more than recovering efficiency losses by harvesting the gravitational potential energy of higher-altitude atmospheric oxygen (which is later harmlessly re-mixed by sun-powered wind).[72]

High-density pumped hydro[edit]

RheEnergise[73] aim to improve the efficiency of pumped storage by using fluid 2.5x denser than water ("a fine-milled suspended solid in water"[74]), such that "projects can be 2.5x smaller for the same power."[75]

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