A Pumped Hydro Energy-Storage Renaissance

Storage plants built for nuclear power are being revamped for wind and solar

3 min read
A Pumped Hydro Energy-Storage Renaissance
Uphill Both Ways: Renewable energy is driving construction of pumped hydro storage plants in Switzerland and elsewhere.
Photo: AXPO Services

Pumping water uphillto store energy in hydropower reservoirs is an idea that, by power grid standards, is as old as the hills that such “pumped storage” plants are built on. But with the rise of intermittent solar energy and wind power, this technology could soon experience a revival, experts say.

Japan is positioned to lead this renaissance. It has the largest number of pumped storage plants, capable of absorbing and discharging 26 gigawatts of power. Those plants are also technology leaders whose variable-speed pumps, developed in the 1990s, are uniquely adapted to shifting energy flows.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions
An illustration of pipes going around from hot to cold behind a chinese animal statue on a pedestal.
MCKIBILLO

Jutting out from the coast of China’s Fujian province, Changbiao Island may seem small and unremarkable. It is anything but. This is where the China National Nuclear Corp. is building two fast-neutron nuclear breeder reactors, the first of which is slated to connect to the grid in 2023, the second in 2026. So China could start producing weapons-grade plutonium there very soon.

They are called breeder reactors because they produce more nuclear fuel than they consume. According to Chinese authorities, the ones on Changbiao are civilian power reactors, designed to generate 600 megawatts of electricity each, which amounts to a little more than 1 percent of the total capacity of China’s nuclear power sector. But each reactor could also yield up to 200 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium each year, enough for about 50 nuclear warheads—which is making nuclear-arms-control experts in Western countries nervous.

Keep Reading ↓Show less