While Pumped Hydroelectric Energy Storage (PHES) development has stalled in much of Europe and the USA, in the People’s Republic of China development is booming and the installed capacity had exceeded 22.5 GW by the end of 2014. This moves China into second place for installed pumped hydro globally above the USA which has approx. 21 GW; only Japan has more with 24.5 GW.
In addition, there is currently an additional 11.5 GW of pumped hydro under construction in China which is likely to see it take the lead by 2017. Japan is also currently constructing 3.3 GW of additional pumped storage. Figure 1 shows the development of PHES in Europe, Japan, China, USA and India.
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While there are undoubtedly many reasons why investors in China and Japan are currently more willing to fund PHES schemes than those in Europe and the USA, the main difference seems to be due to the different regulatory and market structures that exist. In much of the US and Europe, PHES must be rewarded by the market and compete for services that are generally provided by power generation units – and it is treated in a very similar manner to these units. Treating electricity storage as generation makes little sense as storage makes pretty poor generation – the second law of thermodynamics forbids it from outputting more electricity than that which is inputted. Crucially, legislation normally forbids Transmission and Distribution (T&D) network operators from owning PHES (as well as generation). This means it is difficult to reward PHES for its use as a network asset and although the storage could provide benefits across the wider electrical network, the revenue available to them only reflects a small fraction of this value.
In China and Japan PHES plants are rewarded in a cost-of-service manner and can be used as network assets. The network operators can then dispatch these plants as they require for a variety of uses, including ancillary services (frequency response, voltage support, fast reserve etc), peak electric capacity and network congestion alleviation. If the plant can introduce an overall cost saving to the wider network then it is worth the investment.