Experts examine drawbacks of pumped storage for shift to renewable energy


Spread like gigantic swimming pool on the top of a cliff that overlooks Lake Michigan is an asphalt-and-clay pond that holds enough water to generate electrical energy for 1.6 million households.

The pond is unit of the Ludington Pumped Storage Plant that employs simple technology. The approach involves piping water from the lake to an upper reservoir, and then discharged downhill through supersized turbines.

Advocates of the system call it the world’s largest batteries because they carry huge amounts of potential energy for use when required for power grid.

Pumped storage is the best solution for conversion from fossil fuels to renewable energy to address climate change, opines the hydropower industry.

If 10 more pumped storage could be built would be phenomenal, stated community affairs manager for Consumers Energy.

However, utility companies in Jackson have no such plans. Environmental and logistical challenges and extremely high potential costs led Consumers Energy to sell another prospective location near the lake years ago. The upgrade of the existing plant in association with co-owner DTE Energy is underway.

Importantly, the construction of a new plant is not financially viable unless there is financial help coming from state or federal government.

Meanwhile, the decision of the company illustrates challenges of pumped storage in the U.S., wherein the systems account for nearly 93% reserve of utility scale energy. The power storage industry witnesses lagged growth contrary to analysts’ anticipation of soaring demand.

By numbers, the U.S has 43 pumped storage facilities with a total capacity of 22 gigawatts, which is the output of many nuclear plants. Yet, since 1995, only one small operation has been added and it’s unknown how more than 90 pumped storage facilities that are planned can counter economic, logistical, and regulatory bottlenecks that force long delays.

Edward Turner

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