‘Unprecedented’ Water Levels Threatening Hydropower Generation In The West

The nation’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Powell, is continuing to dry up, placing water supplies and power generation in the West in potentially dire straits.

Lake Powell is an artificial lake in the middle of the Colorado River on the border between Arizona and Utah. Created in 1963 after the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, the lake has become a critical source of hydropower and water for the West.

Now, for the first time, the water levels at the lake are threatening to dip below 3,525 feet in elevation, a critical elevation marker, with water levels dropping a full 45 feet in the past year.A boat cruises along Lake Powell near Page, Ariz., on July 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

The critical elevation provides 35 feet of buffer before we reach our minimum power pool elevation where Glen Canyon Dam can no longer generate hydropower, ” said Heather Patno, a hydrologic engineer for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Levels are expected to be below the target elevation for a few weeks before rebounding in April due to snowmelt from mountains along the Colorado River Basin. Hydropower generation is not expected to be affected this spring, but it is possible that the reservoir’s level will dip to critically low levels again in the summer.

“We’re talking about multiple seasons of well-below-average rain and snow that have kind of gotten us to this point, coupled with exceptionally high temperatures which we attribute to regional warming from global warming, ” said Justin Mankin, an assistant geography professor at Dartmouth College and a co-lead at NOAA’s drought task force.

Water conservation measures will likely need to be implemented, something that Mankin says will hit farmers in the West first. As drought conditions continue to build, farmers may be asked to limit their water usage, something which makes growing crops more difficult.

“These are unprecedented times, and these decisions are not taken lightly, and we’re aware of the impacts it has to the Colorado Basin, where there’s 40 million people within the basin,” Patno said.

While water cuts might be necessary to sustain the water supply this year, Mankin believes that the continued drought in the West indicates that more structural solutions might be needed in the future.

A current look at drought conditions in the Western United States as of March 10, 2022.

One peer-reviewed study published recently in the journal Nature Climate Change found that the western United States and parts of northern Mexico are experiencing their driest period in at least 1,200 years, with some calling the unprecedented period of dryness a “megadrought.”

“This drought is indicating we need a structural orientation of our management of water in the West,” Mankin said. “What does it mean for the West to be in an exceptional drought, that is, a drought without exception, every year?”

For the latest weather news check back on AccuWeather.com. Watch the AccuWeather Network on DIRECTVFrontierSpectrumfuboTVPhilo, and Verizon Fios. AccuWeather Now is now available on your preferred streaming platform.

By Zachary Rosenthal

Source: https://www.msn.com



Drought contingency plans define the 3,525-foot mark as a significant “target elevation” for the reservoir, under which the situation becomes dire. As of Thursday, Lake Powell had fallen to just over 3,526 feet in elevation, which is just over 24% of capacity and less than two feet away from the critical level.

“We’re kind of in some uncharted territory, socially and economically,” Justin Mankin, assistant professor of geography at Dartmouth College and co-lead of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Drought Task Force, told CNN. “It’s totally within reason to expect that the next couple of weeks or so for [Lake Powell] to fall below the critical level.”

Lake Powell’s plunging water level threatens Glen Canyon Dam’s capacity to produce hydropower, much like Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. Glen Canyon Dam provides power for many states including Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Nebraska.

The 3,525-foot target is crucial because it allows a 35-foot buffer for emergency response to prevent Lake Powell from dropping below the minimum pool elevation of 3,490 feet above sea level, the lowest at which Glen Canyon Dam is able to generate hydropower.

Lake Powell and nearby Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, have drained at an alarming rate in the last year. In August, the federal government declared a water shortage on the Colorado River for the first time after Lake Mead’s water level plunged to unprecedented lows, triggering mandatory water consumption cuts for states in the Southwest which began in January.

The significance of the dwindling supply in the two reservoirs, fed by the Colorado River watershed, cannot be overstated. Water flowing down the Colorado River fills both Powell and Mead, which are part of a river system supplying more than 40 million people living across seven Western states and Mexico. Both reservoirs provide a critical supply of drinking water and irrigation for many across the region, including rural farms, ranches and native communities.


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Hydration Is a Simple Thing Has The Quest To Improve Water Actually Worked

Screenshot_2021-03-10 'Hydration is a simple thing' has the quest to improve water actually worked

From alkaline waters to beauty elixirs, added oxygen and probiotics, many brands claim they have ‘enhanced’ water – but what do the experts think?

Today, when I woke up, I made myself a cup of warm lemon water. After lunch I dropped a Berocca into a glass to power me through the afternoon haze. Running errands I considered treating myself to a Coke but opted instead for an expensive, vegetable-tasting water.

H2O classic may be a prerequisite to all known forms of life, but countless brands insist they have found ways to “improve” water. From a business standpoint, it’s working. Industry researchers IbisWorld estimate Australia’s “functional beverage” industry is worth $445.6m; and as people become more health conscious, the growth of the sector is outpacing the economy overall.

Like my day, the quest to boost water began by adding citrus. As early as the 12th century, the physician to Sultan Saladin was cataloging their qualities in a “Treatise of the Dietetic Properties of the Lemon”. By the 18th century, the Royal navy was pouring lemon and lime juice down sailors’ throats to prevent scurvy. In the midst of the US Civil War, one concerned citizen even wrote into the New York Times to suggest soldiers be provided “a few lemons every day” because “raw lemon juice will prove of immensely more benefit to sufferers from that indescribably dreadful thirst than buckets of water”.

Not quite as storied, my old pal Berocca first appeared in the 1960s, followed by a brightly coloured alphabet of vitamin effervescents, powder sachets and slickly branded bottled waters.

‘Not many people are actually vitamin deficient’

Vitamin water may have made sense for nutrient-deprived 18th century seamen, but there is little scientific love for these products now. “There is nothing you can get from Berocca that’s not available in a normal diet,” points out Dr Shea Wilcox, a general practitioner working in Melbourne. Berocca agrees with this sentiment, stating more than once in its FAQ that “vitamin and mineral supplements are not a substitute for a balanced diet”.

“If someone has a vitamin deficiency of some degree, we don’t recommend they take Berocca,” Wilcox says. “It’s never offered as a treatment for anything.” He suggests that our enthusiasm for these products outpaces our need as huge improvements in the general population’s diet has meant that “not many people are actually vitamin deficient”.

If you do lack a specific micronutrient, the recommended treatment is to adjust your diet or top up with a doctor-directed supplement for a set period of time, or until you’ve returned to a normal level. Endlessly guzzling enriched water isn’t the way to get there.

‘Your body is fantastic at detoxifying’

Lemons might have sparked our interest in vitamin waters, but they also flow into the looming conversation around “detoxification” and how specialised drinks can assist with it. Anyone who has ever been on YouTube, read a “my day on a plate” article, or listened to professionally good looking people claim their beauty is cultivated, not gifted, has heard of lemon water’s celebrated “cleansing” properties. Our terror over grimy insides has also seen liquid charcoal, milk thistle, magnesium, zinc and others join the growing fight against toxins.

But, as Wilcox puts it, “Your body is fantastic at detoxifying itself without any outside assistance … it’s part and parcel of being a successful organism.” It doesn’t need a dose of expensive cleansing products to do so, since it has “an entire pathway to make sure there are no toxins”.

This long standing and widely available advice hasn’t dented the eternal dream that water, if handled correctly, could be a mythical source of loveliness and vitality.

‘It’s a big myth that drinking water can help with improving skin’

Lately, while feeling dull, I’ve also found myself online, surfing the rising ocean of “beauty waters” that promise to make me more luminous, refreshed and, well, beautiful.

The search for the fountain of youth reaches back to Alexander the Great. Except now rather than a magical spring, we reach for water containing products such as roses, crystals and exotic fruits alongside the less whimsical-sounding collagen, amino acid, silica and selenium.

These good looking, although usually pricey, products promise to improve skin elasticity, complexion, and offer a pleasing glow. While the branding is better, they exist in the same nutritional space as vitamin waters. Some may contain ingredients that are in theory good for you, but they aren’t delivered in a way that is really beneficial.

Echoing Wilcox’s advice, dermal therapist Yadira Galarza Cauchi recommends only taking “supplements under the guidance of a dietician or medical professional”. Adding that “excess amounts of water soluble vitamins are naturally excreted when over-consumed” – ie: you pee the expensive stuff out.

She’s generally weary of simplistic associations between water and skincare, positing: “It’s a big myth in this industry that drinking water can help with improving skin qualities such as skin hydration.”

In reality “topical skin care is required for this … in conjunction with a balanced diet.”

Alkalinity and extra oxygen?

While beauty and vitamin waters stand pretty close together, some brands have broken away, with products focused on tinkering with the molecular structure of water itself. There are waters that claim to have increased the amount of oxygen and hydrogen. With water already being well reviewed, you can kind of understand the impulse to add “more of the good stuff”, but here too promises that hacking the classic recipe will improve hydration, post-exercise recovery and reduce inflammation have been dismissed by doctors and failed to stand up in physiological testing.

Fans (or marketers) of alkaline waters are even more ambitious in their effort to upgrade water, claiming that by pushing pH levels up from tap water’s natural 7 to 8 or 9 they can regulate the body’s own pH levels. This difference can allegedly slow ageing, prevent chronic illness, manage high blood pressure and cholesterol, and improve bone density. The Mayo Clinic has splashed doubt on these claims, reporting that “research suggests that alkaline water is unlikely to significantly change blood pH” and that there’s “little credible evidence” for health benefits. An article breaking out these claims further in Medical News Today concluded “there is no evidence to support the health benefits of alkaline water, there is no recommended amount that improves health”.

‘A whole food diet is the best thing you can do for your internal flora’

A little closer to earth are probiotic waters. Unlike alkaline promises, the health science community are generally pro-probiotics. Gut-friendly foods like yoghurt, kimchi, miso and sauerkraut have been replenishing our microbiomes for much of human history, but have been increasingly spotlighted as gut health takes its place among top health and wellness trends. Now, there are several probiotic-enriched drinks around that are waterier than classic ferments, like kombucha and kefir.

“There is so much exciting research going on in the world of probiotics,” says Dr Johanna Simkin, senior curator of human biology and medicine at Museums Victoria, but, “the product/marketing side seems to have jumped enthusiastically on board, perhaps beyond where the genuine research is at!”

While she was quick to point out the research around probiotics is evolving, much of the industry focus has been on ingesting new microbes. Simkin says “the truth is you are set up with your own supply of microbes very early in life”. Rather than trying to introduce more, she suggests taking care of the trillions already in your gut. Luckily, like “detoxing”, this doesn’t require any expensive or specialty products.

“Simply put, a wholefood diet (non-processed food) is the best thing you can do for your internal flora,” Simkin recommends. “You can improve your microbiome within 24 hours simply by eating well … Beans, rice, sweet potato and other fresh fruit and veg are a great place to start.”

How water can work harder

Before you pitch your glass across the room, there are some situations where tap water can be helped along. VicHealth chief executive Dr Sandro Demaio stresses that “plain water from the tap is all most of us need to stay hydrated and healthy”. But it may not be enough when “when your body is losing fluids due to fever, diarrhoea or vomiting”. In these situations products with electrolytes (such as Hydralyte or sports drinks) can fulfil what at first seems like the kookiest claim, to help water be more hydrating.

“In your gut there is this sugar transporter that actively uptakes one sugar molecule and one water molecule,” Wilcox says. “So [water with electrolytes is] taken up from the gut faster than just drinking water alone … it gets water across the gut membrane faster.”

But you only need that kind of speedy hydration if you’ve been exercising, sweating a lot, or are unwell (in which case you should also consult a doctor). There’s no need to turbocharge hydration for sitting on the couch.

It’s easy to say anything that gets you drinking water is good for you. But as Demaio cautions, “there is no evidence that any additives can make water healthier”. Other than being more costly than tap water, “many of these products can contain added sugar. Too much added sugar can lead to tooth decay and weight gain, increasing your risk of chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.”

Perhaps most surprisingly, even our central fixation on optimal hydration may be misplaced. “You don’t actually need heaps of water … You get a lot of fluid through food,” Wilcox says.

Demaio puts it even more directly: “Hydration is a simple thing. You get thirsty, you drink water, repeat.”


Source: ‘Hydration is a simple thing’: has the quest to improve water actually worked? | Soft drinks | The Guardian



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By The Late 21st Century, The Number of People Suffering Extreme Droughts Will Double

Increase in water scarcity will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict, scientists say.

By the late 21st century, the number of people suffering extreme droughts will double.

Researchers at Michigan State University are leading a global effort to offer the first worldwide view of how climate change could affect water availability and drought severity in the decades to come. The research is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

By the late 21st century, the global land area and population facing extreme droughts could more than double — increasing from 3% during 1976-2005 to 7%-8%, according to Yadu Pokhrel, an MSU civil and environmental engineer and lead author of a paper published in Nature Climate Change.

“More and more people will suffer from extreme droughts if a medium-to-high level of global warming continues and water management is maintained in its present state,” Pokhrel said. “Areas of the Southern Hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this increase in water scarcity will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

The research team, including more than 20 contributing authors, is projecting a large reduction in natural land water storage in two-thirds of the world, also caused by climate change.

Land water storage, technically known as terrestrial water storage, is the accumulation of water in snow and ice, rivers, lakes and reservoirs, wetlands, soil and groundwater — all critical components of the world’s water and energy supply. Terrestrial water storage modulates the flow of water in the hydrologic cycle and determines water availability as well as drought.

“Our findings are a concern,” Pokhrel said. “To date, no study has examined how climate change would impact land water storage globally. Our study presents the first comprehensive picture of how global warming and socioeconomic changes will affect land water storage and what that will mean for droughts through the end of the century.”

Added Ingrid Padilla, a program director in NSF’s Division of Earth Sciences, “This important study sheds light on future changes in water availability in different regions of the world and provides tools for global readiness and adaptation to water scarcity.”–  NSF Public Affairs, researchnews@nsf.gov

By: https://www.nsf.gov/

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NSF AnnouncementsUpdated Date Updated: February 1, 2021

Arecibo Observatory: Media Resources

Completed in 1963 and stewarded by U.S. National Science Foundation since the 1970s, Arecibo Observatory has contributed to many important scientific discoveries, including the demonstration of gravitational waves from a binary pulsar, the first discovery of an extrasolar planet, composition of the ionosphere, and the characterization of the properties and orbits of a number of potentially hazardous asteroids. Date Updated: December 3, 2020

Protecting Research and Facilitating Collaboration

NSF is committed to safeguarding the integrity and security of science while also keeping fundamental research open and collaborative Date Updated: December 11, 2019

NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps)

I-Corps offers researchers unique opportunities to learn how to turn discoveries into new technologies and to participate in the national innovation ecosystem. Date Updated: November 2, 2020

NSF on coronavirus

NSF encourages you to take extra precautions to protect yourselves and your families against COVID-19. Date Updated: August 3, 2020

Solar Science: Exploring the power of our closest star

NSF has been supporting solar astronomy and heliophysics since the 1950’s, with its newest flagship observatory finishing construction in 2020, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope. Date Updated: January 29, 2020

Science Zone

Whether you’re a teacher, student, or just fascinated by science, the NSF Science Zone app will ignite your imagination. Featuring hundreds of exciting videos and high-resolution photos from a dozen areas of science, you can spend hours absorbed in discoveries that take you from the depths of space, to the wonders of the unimaginably small, to the far corners of our own planet. Date Updated: December 23, 2019

NSF Speakers Bureau

The NSF Speakers Bureau is a volunteer group of scientists, engineers and other professionals who represent the agency and are passionate about sharing information on NSF’s mission, programs and the exciting breakthroughs that have come from NSF-funded research. Date Updated: November 7, 2019

Brought to you by NSF

Every day you encounter something made possible by the National Science Foundation. Date Updated: November 4, 2019

Science Nation

This Special Report has been archived and the entire series can now be found in the Multimedia Gallery.
An online magazine examining the breakthroughs and the possibilities for new discoveries about our planet, our universe and ourselves. Each week, Science Nation takes a dynamic, entertaining look at the research–and the researchers–that will change our lives. Date Updated: October 21, 2019

NSF’s 10 Big Ideas

Since 2017, NSF has been building a foundation for the Big Ideas through pioneering research and pilot activities. In 2019, NSF will invest $30 million in each Big Idea and continue to identify and support emerging opportunities for U.S. leadership in Big Ideas that serve the Nation’s future. Date Updated: October 19, 2019

Nobel Prizes–The NSF Connection

When a scientist who has received federal funding is awarded the Nobel prize, the public can share both the pride and the research benefits. More than 200 laureates have been supported by the public through NSF. Date Updated: October 18, 2019

Exploring Black Holes

Black holes are extremely dense pockets of matter, objects of such incredible mass and miniscule volume that they drastically warp the fabric of space-time. Date Updated: June 3, 2019

Penguins… And More!

The National Science Foundation manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, which coordinates all U.S. scientific research (including penguin research!) on the southernmost continent and in the Southern Ocean. Date Updated: June 1, 2019

NSF Prize Competitions

NSF welcomes members of the public to help solve science, technology, engineering and math challenges by submitting ideas and solutions for a chance to win prizes. Date Updated: May 30, 2019

Predicting Seasonal Weather

Large-scale weather patterns play a large role in controlling seasonal weather. Knowing the conditions of these atmospheric oscillations in advance would greatly improve long-range weather predictions. Date Updated: October 18, 2018

Catch a Wave! The Science of Summer

Meet sharks and alligators up close, listen to the eerie sounds of the West’s rock arches, explore a lost continent. Catch a wave! Explore the science of summer with the National Science Foundation. Date Updated: June 4, 2018

Futures of the Scientific Imagination

Fantastical thinking, grounded in real, NSF-funded science and engineering research, helps shape tomorrow’s technologies. Imagination, science and technology together will inevitably change our lives. Date Updated: November 21, 2017

LIGO: Einstein Was Right

A century ago, Albert Einstein predicted gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space-time that result from the universe’s most violent phenomena. A hundred years later, NSF-funded researchers using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) have detected gravitational waves. Date Updated: October 16, 2017

April Showers Bring… The Science of Spring

From flowers’ microscopic cells to thunderstorms called supercells, researchers funded by NSF are studying the science of spring. NSF peers into what makes spring such a vibrant–and sometimes dangerous–season. Date Updated: April 18, 2017

Cleaner water, cleaner future: Engineering new water tech

Engineering researchers are creating new ways to handle drought, chemical spills and water purification. Imagine a clean water future. Date Updated: February 13, 2017

Human Water Cycle

This Special Report has been archived and the entire series can now be found in the Multimedia Gallery.
NSF and NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, release an original video series exploring the connection between water, food and energy. Date Updated: February 7, 2017

Let It Snow! The Science of Winter

Snow–that icon of winter–blankets the land with a beautiful silence. We all depend on snow. Our year-round water supply largely comes from snowmelt, and many spring flowers need the nutrients in snow to bloom. Species as small as fungi and as large as moose require snow. Date Updated: January 13, 2017


NSF INCLUDES is a multi-year initiative designed to help develop collaborative alliances and partnerships in order to create pathways for more people to become scientists and engineers. Date Updated: December 13, 2016

Public Access to Results of NSF-funded Research

The National Science Foundation has developed a plan outlining a framework for activities to increase public access to scientific publications and digital scientific data resulting from research the foundation funds. Date Updated: December 2, 2016

A Foundation for Robotics: Designing cooperative, intelligent systems of the future

Long-term federal investments in fundamental science and engineering research has led to novel machines that safely partner with people in nearly every environment. Date Updated: June 6, 2016


The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is an NSF-funded large facility project. NEON is a continental-scale research platform for discovering and understanding the impacts of climate change, land-use change and invasive species on ecology. Learn about NEON and NEON-related research. Date Updated: March 23, 2016

Science of Innovation (2016)

From 3-D bioprinting that could one day generate heart tissue to origami-inspired structures built for medicine and space exploration, a new set of educational videos continues an exploration begun in 2013 inside the creative process that leads to innovation. Date Updated: February 18, 2016

Computer Science Is for All Students

NSF-funded research is building the necessary foundations for implementing rigorous and engaging computer science education. A wide range of resources, including instructional materials and support for teachers and schools, have been prototyped across the U.S. Date Updated: January 30, 2016

Nanotechnology: Super Small Science

A six-part video series howing how atoms and molecules that are thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair can be used as building blocks to create future technology.



In partnership with Vox Media Studios and Vox, this enlightening explainer series will take viewers deep inside a wide range of culturally relevant topics, questions, and ideas. Each episode will explore current events and social trends pulled from the zeitgeist, touching topics across politics, science, history and pop culture — featuring interviews with some of the most authoritative experts in their respective fields.

In this episode: The global water crisis is at an inflection point. How do we price our most valuable resource, while also ensuring access to it as a human right? US Rating: TV-MA. This show is designed for for mature audiences only. For more information and educational resources, please visit: https://media.netflix.com/en/company-…

How Will Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Power Our Future?

Pumped storage hydropower has proven to be an ideal solution to the growing list of challenges faced by grid operators.

As the transition to a clean energy future rapidly unfolds, this flexible technology will become even more important for a reliable, affordable and low carbon grid, write IHA analysts Nicholas Troja and Samuel Law.

“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. That old adage, Murphy’s law, must seem appropriate for many power grid operators in 2020.

This year has tested the safe running and reliability of grids around the world like few others. Often termed ‘the biggest machine ever built,’ managing a power system, involving the coordination of complex and instantaneous interactions, is a formidable task at the best of times.

With the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on top of extreme weather events, greater penetrations of variable renewables and increasingly aged thermal assets, the task has only become more demanding in many markets.

These challenges have brought into sharp focus the growing need for energy storage, such as that offered by pumped storage hydropower.

Recent events highlight the need for pumped storage

Covid-19 continues to have an extraordinary impact on electricity markets. During the height of worldwide lockdowns, with large sections of the economy shutdown or greatly impaired, electricity demand declined by up to 30 per cent in some countries across Europe and in India.

As Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated, the demand drop “fast forwarded some power systems 10 years into the future” regarding integrating higher percentages of variable renewable energy (VRE) which receive priority dispatch to the grid. Managing periods of such low demand can create “significant operational risks” for grid operators. In some markets, this has led to curtailing, or shutting down, wind and solar facilities to stabilise the grid.

During such periods, pumped storage hydropower, with its ability to both store and generate large quantities of energy over long periods, was the first port of call for those grid operators lucky enough to have such stations on hand. In Britain, its four pumped storage stations were hailed by the Financial Times newspaper as the “first line of defence in the battle to keep Britain’s lights on”. Able to increase system demand by pumping water back up to their upper reservoir, pumped storage is a more cost-effective way of managing the grid than paying operators to curtail variable supply.

In August, the U.S. state of California experienced rolling blackouts for the first time since 2001 due to a combination of record heatwaves driving up demand, faltering gas-fired stations and a lack of dispatchable generation. As Stephen Berberich, President of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) said, “we thought there would be adequate power to supply the demand…we were wrong” and the costs to the Californian economy will be significant.

These managed blackouts provide yet another wake-up call for policymakers on the need to appropriately plan for a zero-emissions future. With limited balancing resources such as pumped storage, California’s grid did not have the flexibility to shift sufficient generating capacity to the evenings when the sun had set yet the demand remained high.

Given California’s aim of reaching 100 per cent clean electricity by 2045, mainly from wind and solar power which currently accounts for 20 per cent of generation, significant investment in flexible, low carbon balancing resources will be required.

In response, California is betting big on batteries for short-duration storage, from sub-seconds to up to four hours, to manage intraday variations in net load. However, with those high levels of VRE on the grid, long-duration storage, which can discharge for 10 hours or more at rated power, will be needed to accommodate the seasonal patterns of VREs. It will do so by shifting generation over days, weeks and months of supply and demand imbalance. This is a story that rings true for many countries across the world with ambitious climate targets.

Achieving California’s clean energy target is made even harder by the government’s decision to classify conventional hydropower stations greater than 30 MW as a non-renewable resource under its Renewables Portfolio Standard. This arbitrary classification is at odds with international consensus and penalises the state’s oldest source of affordable, flexible and low-carbon electricity.

Figure 1: Illustration of a closed-loop (off-river) pumped storage station and how it can be used support VRE.

Capabilities of pumped storage

With a total installed capacity of nearly 160 GW, pumped storage currently accounts for over 94 per cent of both storage capacity and stored energy in grid scale applications globally. This has earned pumped storage its name as the world’s “water battery”. It is a mature and reliable technology capable of storing energy for daily or weekly cycles and up to months, as well as seasonal applications, depending on project scale and configurations.

Pumped storage operates by storing electricity in the form of gravitational potential energy through pumping water from a lower to an upper reservoir (see figure 1). The result of this simple solution is a very high round-trip efficiency of 80 per cent, which compares favourably to other storage technologies.

Pumped storage tends to have high energy-to-power ratios and is well suited to provide long discharge durations at very low energy storage costs. Across different timescales, pumped storage can serve multiple functions (see figure 2). For example, at shorter discharge durations, it is suitable for ancillary services such as frequency balancing and back-up reserve.

With four to eight hours of discharge, it can provide daily shifting for day-night energy arbitrage. For longer durations over 10 hours, it can accommodate multi-day supply profile changes, reduce energy curtailment, replace peak generation capacity and provide transmission benefits.

Figure 2: The plot above visualises (logarithmic scale used) the estimated discharge durations relative to installed capacity and energy storage capacity for some 250 pumped storage stations currently in operation, based on information from IHA’s Pumped Storage Tracking Tool. The vast majority of pumped storage stations have a discharge duration longer than 6 hours, and some are capable of seasonal storage.

The majority of today’s pumped storage stations were built some forty years ago. Yet, they are still providing vital services to our power systems today. With occasional refurbishment, these long-term assets can last for many decades to come.

Despite being a mature technology, the resurgence of interest in pumped storage has brought forth numerous new R&D initiatives. One prominent example is the European Commission’s four-year XFLEX HYDRO project, which aims to develop new technological solutions to enhance hydropower’s flexibility. Latest innovations, such as variable speed turbines and smart digital operating systems, will be tested on a range of pumped storage demonstration sites.

While often thought of as geographically constrained, recent studies have identified vast technical potential for pumped storage development worldwide. Research by the Australian National University highlighted over 600,000 potential sites for low-impact off-river pumped storage development, including locations in California. There is also growing interest in retrofitting pumped storage at disused mines, underground caverns, non-powered dams and reservoir hydropower stations.                              

Seeking a path toward a clean, affordable and secure transition

California is a pioneer in the energy transition. Though many opponents of wind and solar have unfortunately used the blackouts as an example of why their rapid roll-out is a threat to a secure, reliable grid. As noted earlier, the blackouts were not due to too much VRE capacity being on the grid, but a lack of integrated planning to support an evolving electricity mix with sufficient dispatchable generation and storage.

The IEA recently stated that, dispatchable pumped storage, along with conventional hydropower, is the often overlooked workhorse of flexibility. However, its development, like many energy storage technologies, is currently being hampered by the lack of appropriate regulatory frameworks and market signals to reward its contribution to the grid. Outside China, year-on-year installed capacity growth has been anaemic at just 1.5 per cent since 2014 (see figure 3).

Figure 3: Global pumped storage installed capacity by region. Note that 2019 recorded the lowest growth in pumped storage capacity for over a decade, with only 304 MW added. Source: IHA’s database.

Given the technology’s long lead times, investment decisions are needed urgently to ensure that pumped storage, in conjunction with other low-carbon flexibility options, are available to grid operators without needing to rely on carbon-intensive gas-fired generation as a backup. This is especially important as VRE penetration reaches increasingly high levels not yet experienced on a regular basis.

IHA is continuing to work across the hydropower sector and is seeking to learn lessons from other sectors to support the development and deployment of pumped storage. Together with national authorities and multilateral development banks, we are developing a new global initiative to shape and enhance the role of the technology in future power systems.

Further information

Join our Hydropower Pro online community or sign-up to our email newsletter via our website homepage for latest developments.

To learn more about IHA and our work on pumped storage, please visit: www.hydropower.org/pumped-storage

To contact the authors please email nicholas.troja@hydropower.org and samuel.law@hydropower.org

Nick Troja is a Senior Hydropower Sector Analyst. His work focuses on building and sharing knowledge on global hydropower, including identifying trends in project financing, policies and market dynamics.

Before joining IHA, Nick worked for the UK’s steel industry focusing on the EU Emissions Trading System and the impact of other EU level climate change and energy policies on the sector. Prior to this he worked for the UK’s department of energy and climate change, covering a wide range of policy areas and as an adviser to the shadow minister for emissions trading and climate change in Canberra. He holds a bachelor’s degree in international business and master’s degree in public policy.  

Samuel Law is Hydropower Sector Analyst. His work focuses on building and sharing knowledge on sustainable hydropower development, working on topics such as clean energy systems, green financing mechanisms and regional hydropower development.

Samuel holds a master’s degree in environmental technology from Imperial College London and has a technical background in environmental engineering. Prior to joining IHA, he completed an internship with the United Nations in Bangkok. At the UN, he conducted research on Sustainable Development Goals, integrated resource management and collaborative governance, as well as supported project implementation and organised international conferences. He also has experience as a business intelligence analyst in London, where he conducted research on market dynamics and investment trends across industries.



Australian Renewable Energy Agency

Like the hydroelectric power stations that have powered Tasmania for a century, a new generation of pumped hydro plants will play an important role in Australia’s future energy mix. With the Australian Energy Market Operator forecasting that 15 GW of large-scale storage will be needed by the early 2040s, pumped hydro is expected to operate alongside large-scale batteries and other energy storage technologies. Learn more about pumped hydro here – https://arena.gov.au/blog/how-could-p


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