Underpinning Australia’s renewable energy future – powering ahead with Snowy 2.0

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by Paul Broad, CEO of Snowy Hydro Limited

In 2019, as the mighty Snowy Mountains Scheme celebrates its 70th anniversary, it is fitting that another era for this iconic engineering and construction marvel begins.

We are embarking on the next chapter of the remarkable Snowy story with Snowy 2.0, a major pumped hydro project that will underpin Australia’s renewable energy future for generations to come.

We believe the National Electricity Market (NEM) has passed the tipping point. Last year Snowy Hydro contracted 888MW of wind and solar projects, which gave us incredible insights into the changing energy market and future pricing. This process confirmed many of the assumptions of Snowy 2.0’s business case, including that renewables are now the most economic form of new generation (even when firmed by hydro or gas).

Snowy 2.0, like the original Snowy Scheme, is vital to Australia’s economy and our energy transition, by providing the massive storage and on-demand generation needed to balance the growth of wind and solar power, and the retirement of Australia’s aging fleet of thermal power stations. In short, it will underpin the stability of our energy system as Australia moves into a low-emissions future.

The project

Snowy 2.0 is a major pumped hydro expansion of the Snowy Scheme. A nationally-significant project, it will add 2,000MW of energy generation and large-scale energy storage of 350,000MW hours, or up to 175 hours at full capacity.

The project links two dams, Tantangara (elevation 1,222m) and Talbingo (elevation 546m), through a series of tunnels and an underground power station with pumping capabilities.

Large volumes of water will be stored in the upper dam as “energy in waiting”, and then used to generate on-demand to power homes and businesses within minutes, at peak times.

As Snowy 2.0’s pumping capabilities operate in a closed system – water is recycled between the upper and lower dams – the same water can be used to generate power repeatedly, making the most of available water resources.

Without reliable, large-scale storage, excess energy in the system is wasted. The efficiency of the NEM is improved by pumped hydro, which absorbs and stores surplus energy at times of low demand. This might mean pumping with surplus wind energy overnight, and from solar plants in the middle of the day, so that water is available for generation at the times of peak demand.

Snowy Hydro has plenty of experience with pumped storage. We have been successfully operating pumped hydro at our Tumut 3 Power Station for decades, and it has been invaluable for energy consumers, especially in years of drought.

Why the NEM needs Snowy 2.0

The Snowy Scheme, with its 16 major dams, can already store huge amounts of energy. While this is sufficient for the current NEM, it will not be enough in a lower emissions economy, powered by wind and solar generation that is cheap, but with supply patterns that are difficult to predict and that don’t always coincide with the energy demands of households and businesses.

The cost and zero emission advantages of renewable energy will only be realised if a sufficient amount of energy from these intermittent renewable energy sources can be stored for later use when required. This is where Snowy 2.0 comes to the fore.

Snowy 2.0 and its fast start, clean hydro-power and large-scale energy storage will work together with renewables to fill the gaps in generation and manage system instability. The combination of intermittent renewables, firmed by on-demand generation from Snowy Hydro and Snowy 2.0, will help ensure that households and businesses have reliable, stable and affordable energy into the future.

Of course, the ability for hydro, gas or diesel peaking energy to firm renewable energy, turning wind and solar into a reliable end product, is already occurring and Snowy Hydro is a market leader in these developments.

As the fourth-largest player in the NEM, Snowy Hydro already provides much-needed competition in the NEM – Snowy 2.0’s fostering of new renewables, and additional supply of hydro generation, will create further market competition to help drive the best outcomes for consumers.

The storage capacity of Snowy 2.0’s dams will help ensure the stability and reliability of the NEM even during prolonged weather events, such as wind or solar droughts. Snowy 2.0, along with the existing Snowy Scheme, will more efficiently deliver electricity to the major load centres of Sydney and Melbourne at times of high demand.

Snowy 2.0 cross-section illustration © Snowy Hydro Limited 2019.

Independent economic analyses prepared by leading energy market modellers Marsden Jacob Associates shows Snowy 2.0 is the least cost large-scale energy storage solution for the NEM as the economy decarbonises.

We understand that while Snowy 2.0 will provide huge amounts of storage, more will be required into the future. Snowy 2.0   could act as a model for further pumped hydro expansion projects in the area in between Tantangara and Talbingo, increasing the Scheme’s capacity by up to 8,000MW.

That’s why we are already planning for a Snowy 3.0. Other pumped hydro projects across the NEM, commercial and household batteries and demand management will also have a role to play.

The Talbingo Dam, which will be part of the Snowy 2.0 Scheme. © Snowy Hydro Limited 2019. A map of the existing Snowy development, showing where Snowy 2.0 will fit in. © Snowy Hydro Limited 2019.

Project activities – current and ongoing

After a two-year journey of research, planning, project design, preparation and a lot of hard work, we are excited and incredibly proud to be underway with the Snowy 2.0 project.

Snowy 2.0 Exploratory Works have started in the Snowy Mountains, with pre-construction activities and access road upgrades being carried out by Australian contractor Leed Engineering and Construction.

We have appointed Future Generation, a joint venture between Australian construction company Clough and international tunnelling specialist Salini Impregilo, for the civil works and Voith Hydro to deliver the latest hydro-generation technology in the new Snowy 2.0 power station. We expect first power from Snowy 2.0 in late 2024.

The energy sector supports the Australian Energy Market Operator’s proposed Integrated System Plan, which has identified transmission system upgrades needed for the shared network to connect the proposed renewable energy zones and new projects coming online.

We believe that bringing forward the build of some of the key routes will bring benefits to consumers sooner. Building new transmission routes now will not only deliver constrained Snowy Scheme energy capacity to the NEM, but it will also connect many new, geographically-dispersed renewable energy and storage projects, including Snowy 2.0, to the shared network.

There is plenty of information about Snowy 2.0 on our website www.snowyhydro.com.au including a comprehensive project overview and business case document, the latest MJA energy market report, an interactive map, videos and much more, and I encourage you to check it out.

Snowy 2.0 at a glance

Up to three tunnel boring machines, as well as drill and blast techniques, will be used for Snowy 2.0 tunnelling and excavation

About 40km of tunnels, including 27km of power waterway tunnels about 10m in diameter, will be excavated

A power station with pumping capabilities will be located approximately 800m below ground

Snowy 2.0’s machine hall, about 240m in length, will house six reversible pump-turbines and motor-generator units. Three units will be synchronous (fixed) speed and three will be asynchronous (variable) speed

Each generator rotor, when assembled, will weigh over 400 tonnes

A single, concrete-lined, inclined pressure tunnel will divert water into six steel-lined penstocks that feed water into the generating units

At full generation, the water flowing through Snowy 2.0 power waterway tunnel will fill an Olympic swimming pool in just seven seconds

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