Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Chris Harries

A Pumped-hydro Bonanza for Tasmania … ?

Pic: Lake Gordon, Mt Wedge in the background. Daniel Patman, Flickr

First published September 9

Most of it won’t happen. Here’s why …

It’s a state election year, and what better than to announce a brave new, multi billion pumped-hydro phantasmagorical bonanza for the state. Fifteen dams, two new Basslinks, Tasmania the national hero. The sort of grand vision that can get governments elected.

Meanwhile, our Prime Minister is being dogged left, right and centre by a hopelessly failing national energy market and is throwing money around like nobody’s business to look like he is on top of it all.

Put those two political ingredients together and then read between the lines in media those ebullient headlines about how plucky little Tasmania is going to save the nation. We won’t do that. We can’t do it. But we do stand to gain a few million in feasibility studies and that is what this is mostly about.

First up, let’s inject a little bit of essential education:

• Pumped-hydro should not be classed as renewable energy. It is a means of storing energy that has been generated elsewhere and then releasing it at peak times. It is plainly disingenuous to label that energy as ‘renewable’.

• Used in this way, pumped-hydro can help to to iron out peaks and troughs in the energy market. But it’s not the only way, nor necessarily a cheap way of doing so.

• Though pumped-hydro can be utilized, theoretically, to help buffer intermittent wind and solar energy, by far it’s biggest benefit is for the coal industry. Why? Because coal-fired generators are hopeless at rapidly matching their power output to fluctuating demand.

• The economics of running coal-fired power stations pivots around stabilizing their output. What’s more, if Australia has are fewer coal-fired stations (because older ones are being closed down) then the remaining ones will have increasing trouble meeting the nation’s peak load.

• The most cost efficient way to keep the furnaces stoked through the night is to choof out more power than is actually needed at that time, and store that energy for peak hours when the system is under stress.

• Enter pumped-hydro. Go back up to the first dot point above.

• Now … for Tasmania to provide this national service we have to look at a few basic sums. And this is essentially why the sums for Matt Groom’s sales pitch won’t add up.

• Generate electricity on the mainland (from any means) and post it to Tasmania and these are the real power losses that occur:

– Transmission across Basslink = 10% energy loss.

– Pumping losses – due to frictional flow = 20% energy loss.

¬– Transmission back across Bass Strait = 10% energy loss.

• Add these up and we have a net energy loss of 40% – conservatively estimated.

• Then look at the multi-billion cost of building all of that infrastructure. Approximately $1 billion apiece for each new Basslink. Several hundred million for each or those buffer dams and pumping stations. To be competitive these investments would have to compete against other alternative ways of stabilizing the national grid.

• At this point we need to look at what is really going to happen in the next ten years or so – i.e. the period in which all that Tasmanian infrastructure would be built. The rest of the country won’t be asleep at the wheel. Investment decisions are being made now.

• On-site gas-fired generators (they have rapid fire-up ability and therefore can meet peak load quite readily) are being installed as we speak. Pumped-hydro facilities will be built in a few sites along the eastern ranges. A world first battery storage bank is being installed in South Australia. Other promising storage technologies are being talked up.

• The important thing about all of these possibilities is that these will mostly beat the pants off anything that we can do remotely, and in many cases much more quickly. As what happened with the building of Basslink 1 the business case would most likely disintegrate long before the on-switch can be pressed.

• Now let’s go back to the first dot point again. Tasmania has no net surplus hydro power to sell. Say that again. Tasmania has no surplus power to sell. The existing hydro-wind system supplies approximately 90% of our power demand. The rest has to be supplied from Tamar Valley gas station or by importing power across Bass Strait.

• Which is what we are doing right now. The Tamar Valley power station was hammering out about 200 MW continuously throughout the first 6 months of this year and, with dam levels at 40 percent in early Spring, it was fired up again last week.

• To make along story short, it would take a lot of effort and investment just to get Tasmania to 100 percent self sufficiency in its power output. Yes, we should aspire to doing that.

• The phantasmagorical scheme being proposed for Tasmania talks up extra generators being installed and so forth, but the fact remains that we only get so much rain. By way of example, the proposal to add an additional generator at Gordon power station will not produce one kilowatt more power. It would enable Hydro Tasmania to drain Lake Gordon more quickly, and then to restore that volume by importing power.

• The scheme may, here and there, enhance the performance of the existing hydro system by hotting it up a little, but this is not the mainstay behind the grand proposal.

• OK, what then about the need for storage for wind and solar energy? Isn’t that a justification? Yes, but here we need to look at the ability of our very able hydro-electric network of dams to do that right now. No investment needed.

• Thanks to climate change, Tasmania is suffering dwindling water run-off into Hydro Tasmania’s impoundments. This means that these days our dams are rarely full. Mostly below 50 percent full. The plus side is that is unused storage capacity can be used to store energy, immediately, from any other source.

• For most people this needs a little explanation. How can you turn electricity into water?… is what goes through their heads.

• This is how it works. Any additional power that is fed into the Tasmanian grid means that less hydro power needs to be generated. Thus the turbines are throttled back and that amount of water is allowed to build up in the dams for later use. The point is, that there is ample capacity to absorb almost any amount (at least 500MW) of non-hydro renewables into the system right now. Until such time as this unused system capacity is utilised this is where our cost competitive opportunity lies.

• Ok then: why can Tasmania not be a massive storage for mainland wind and solar power in the future? That’s answered further above. It would have to provide a cheaper buffer than can be done by other means on the Mainland and without the immense energy losses. It would be folly to produce power from solar panels in Queensland, shunt it to Tasmania for temporary storage and then shunt it back again. We don’t need to be rocket scientists to grasp those sums.

• I deliberately haven’t mentioned here the physical imposts of the grand pumped-hydro scheme on Tasmania, the wilderness state. There would be huge implications for downstream river ecologies consequent running our rivers madly for short bursts, let alone the building of all those 15 buffer dams downstream of existing dams. But let’s put this aside for now partly because these environmental concerns issues are of little interest to most decision makers. More so, the scheme is so hair brained most of it will never happen.

• So what’s this pumped-hydro bonanza for Tasmania really all about then? It’s about exploiting the political moment to the financial advantage of the state government and to the political advantage of the Turnbull government. Let’s make no mistake, this calculated sales pitch could pragamatically deliver to Tasmania a decent package of money just to look into it and dabble around with some bulldozer work. If the vision – improbable as it is – serves to get the state government re-elected then it will have served its main political purpose.

• I must add here that some augmentation of Tasmania’s power system is definitely in order. The main impact we are suffering from as a result of Basslink being installed is a lessening of energy security. This is because successive state governments have found it cheaper and more convenient to allow the importing of off-peak coal power than to facilitate extra on-island wind farms.

• Using our existing system capacity and potential is where our primary policy focus should be. This is where we can sanely facilitate additions of renewable energy generation, and on a cost effective basis.

*Chris Harries is an environmental educator specialising in energy supply & demand issues. He is a member of the Climate Tasmania advisory body and has played a major role in the uptake of domestic rooftop solar in Tasmanian communities. He has been writing on environmental and social advocacy issues since the mid 1970s.

• Gordon Bradbury in Comments: That’s not Spring in the air. That’s the smell of testosterone and election fever. Bring on the parades. Bring on the dancing girls and marching bands! Bring on the promises of money and jobs, money and jobs, money and jobs!!! And don’t forget the “Grand Visions”. Especially for Tasmania. Tasmania is the home of “Grand Visions” …

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Chris Harries

    October 25, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    I’m not too emphatically for or against pumped-hydro, but we do need to challenge the idea that it’s necessarily a benign or sensible thing to do in any given situation.

    Here’s a little alarming insight into what it means in the Snowy …


  2. Skuli Johannsson

    September 23, 2017 at 3:56 am

    #66 Chris, thanks for your comments.
    The North Sea is a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean located between Great Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, partially enclosed by islands or peninsulas and open to the Atlantic Ocean. The 580 km Norned subsea power cable between Norway and the Netherlands, longest of its kind in the world, crosses the North Sea. Maximum depth is 410 meters but 420 km of the cable is in shallow waters (up to 50 m depth). The Bass Strait is somewhat similar to the North Sea.
    On the other hand IceLink would cross the open and rough Atlantic Ocean with strong ocean currents and large waves. Planning reparation in wintertime would be questionable and in case of failure the reparation would probably have to be carried out during next summer. Minimum two cables from the beginning seems obvious but has not yet been considered seriously.
    In the 1980’s an international cable company carried out a feasibility analysis of a two man submarine for cable reparations at the bottom. The result was that the concept was technically possible but it has still not been used in practice neither for Norned nor Basslink.
    #67 Peter, thanks for your comments.
    I would not worry so much about the seismic activity. IceLink will be placed entirely on the European tectonic plate. The Atlantic rift between the American and European tectonic plates crosses Iceland from South-West to North-East but Icelink would make a landing in the South-East.
    The first analysis of Icelink was made in the 1950s and until 2010 several analysis were made all leading to a conclusion that the project was not feasible. The current analysis was initiated 2010 by the newly appointed General Manager of Landsvirkjun The National Power Company of Iceland. Several cost estimates have since then been presented all based on comparison with existing subsea power cables. A proper cost estimate taking full account of the risk involved remains yet to be done.

  3. Peter Godfrey

    September 22, 2017 at 10:49 pm

    #65 Skuli, I believe that you are correct when you question whether our storages are built too large. As far as I know Lake Gordon and Great Lake have never actually been full.
    The proposed Ice Link cable sounds like a very risky proposition. We have very stable geology here, and very little seismic activity.
    In Iceland you have much seismic activity, this would increase the risk of the cable being damaged significantly. The depths that you quote are astronomical as far as cable repairs go.
    The ocean weather also will play a big part in the repairs and laying.
    Sounds like a fools plan to me.

  4. Chris Harries

    September 22, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    Thank you so much for your report, Skuli (#65).

    Very interesting and comprehensive. I hope that the Basslink failure experience offers you some insights into the level of risk that the Icelink cable will be subject to. Intuitively, I think it would be a very high risk venture.

    With the Basslink cable being 300 km long and accepting your statistical risk analysis of 10% probability of fail per 100 km per annum, that means we could expect Basslink to fail once every 4 or 5 years maybe? I think those failure stats may come from real life experiences in the Baltic area where there are several undersea cables? Presumably the failure rate also increases with age?

    In any event, I can’t imagine how they would easily repair an undersea cable under the North Sea in bad weather conditions. It was a very difficult and expensive job in Bass Strait.

  5. Skuli Johannsson

    September 22, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    I am pleasantly surprised how much you are aware of the electrical infrastructure in Iceland.
    The National Power Company of Iceland Landsvirkjun has suggested that foreign investors would own the proposed IceLink submarine cable from Iceland to UK.
    Landsvirkjun is 100% owned by the public of Iceland.
    If IceLink would be owned by foreign investors it is the same situation as in Tasmania where an investment fund in Singapore owns the Basslink Cable. They rent the cable out to Hydro Tasmania and insure it against possible damages.
    Therefore it is a disappointment that a proper analysis of the Basslink cable failure of 1915-1916 was not performed and the reason for the failure is indecisive. To me it looks like a cover-up but for what reason I do not know.
    The public always has to pay in the end, they say.
    To my understanding IceLink would be a high risk project.
    The statistics tells us that the possibility of failure in submarine power cables is 10% /year/100km. With a 1000 km Icelink it would be likely to fail 10*10%=100% or every year. A weather window in the Atlantic Ocean is hard to get in wintertime so probably we will have to wait until next summer for a weather window. So statistically the cable will almost never be available! Maybe this is a fool‘s logic but nevertheless an interesting perspective.
    I did a report on Icelink back in 2010 and it can be found at https://2veldi.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/icelink-submarine-power-cable-from-iceland-to-britain.pdf
    But back to the need for pumping capacity and associated need for new wind power capacity because it is an interesting subject for discussion both for Tasmania and Iceland.

  6. Chris Harries

    September 22, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Yes, Skuli (#62), there are indeed close similarities.

    You have three aluminium smelters, whereas we have three significant metallurgical smelting operations drawing in cheap hydro-electricity here – one of those being a rather old aluminium smelter.

    Is it intended that the financial risk carried by the proposed undersea cable from Iceland to Britain be carried by Iceland community. If so, I would be rather nervous about it. But it could be that the British government is footing the bill and maybe even be the owner? I expect Britain would stand to gain in the transaction.

    One of the experiences in outsourcing the Basslink cable to third party ownership here is some regret on the part of Tasmania in it not being under state control. Whatever transactions take place over legal legal contracts with the Iceland undersea cable (if it does go ahead) is apportioning risk so the state does not carry undue liability in the case of failure of the link.

  7. Robin Charles Halton

    September 22, 2017 at 6:24 am

    #55 Chris, I cant see a problem with Heemskerk and Lake Echo wind farms as Hydro Tasmania would lease the sites for the installation turbines and access roading from the land owners!

    You have constantly advocated wind farms to boost our capacity as you rightly continue to do in keeping with your subsequent comments for which I support you for those initiatives!

    I do find it puzzling as Heemskerk at Granville Harbour is not far distant for linking to existing network at Stringer Creek dam on Lake Pieman. Cattle Hill is close to Lake Echo transmission line networks!

    It also makes me wonder the state of the fantasy land that the current Minister Mr Groom administers with his subjects operating under a list of fancy business empire, sucking up taxpayer money and good will and actually delivering nothing in the way of innovation to actually boost the States capacity!

    Suddenly a spark of inspiration “out of the blue” from Hydro Tas CEO Chris Davey “Time to power up”, a $5B investment, up to 3000 jobs with pumped hydro per yesterday’s Mercury newspaper article!

    This is almost unconceivable that suddenly the Hydro has moved its tail beyond the Board Room and regular meetings with the Minister office to actually get out in the field do some practical but its only a maybe!

    Its no wonder people are becoming increasing concerned about the role of governments’ in developing electricity infrastructure apart from the Ministers bullying tactics over a second Bass Link when we are stuck with limited infrastructure.

    No one in their right mind believes in the Hydro any more, a failed government cash cow that has failed Tasmanians in recent years as a dependable utility, GBE’d as an inceasingly expensive failure that came close to a complete failure if the operationally expensive Tamar Valley Power Station had been sold off by the current government.

    At least with lake Gordon steadily continually rising in level there is some hope we may survive another summer crises common with the mysterious underlying workings of the Hydro empire and the Minister.

  8. Skuli Johannsson

    September 22, 2017 at 12:47 am

    Thank you for these great and profound comments about hydrology in Iceland and Tasmania.
    In Tasmania the river flow has declined with warmer climate but increased in Iceland.
    Declining inflows in Tasmania should not diminish the benefit and full utilization of water storage capacity in the power system. It is a question of operational management.
    You mention that the rated generation capacity of the energy system was officially reduced by ten percent in 2007. In Iceland, we have done the same, but with opposite sign. We increased the power system production capability, but it did not change the relative utilization of the water storage.
    I notice in your comments that because of declining river flow, content of the water reservoirs should be corrected by long term operations, including construction of wind turbines. It might be good and valid, but has it been taken into account in feasibility analysis of the wind turbines? How long would it occupy the wind power system and with what kind of operational characteristics?
    I have watched the news on the Basslink failure Dec 2015 to June 2016, not least because of the comparison with IceLink, the planned submarine cable from Iceland to the UK. Length of the Basslink cable is 300 km and the failure occurred at 80 meters below sea level. Planned length of the IceLink would be 1100 km, max depth 1100 meters and the cable would be at depth of more than 500 meters for 500 km of its length. It is disappointing that analysis of the Basslink failure should not reveal a more definite cause of failure than “Act of God“.
    The power systems of Iceland and Tasmania are very much similar.

  9. Chris Harries

    September 21, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    (#60) Ah, yes great to hear from someone in Iceland, Skuli. And yes the Icelandic hydro-electric system is actually performing better now under climate change, owing to increasing ice melt mainly. Generally places that receive water inflows from glaciated mountains for the time being will be receiving more water inflows, but in the longer term future this is predicted to sharply reduce. Would be good to hear more about the Icelandic prognosis.

    Hydro Tasmania monitors flows in all of its feed rivers with river gauges that are in place and which mostly are automated. Keep in mind that inflows into Hydro Tasmania impoundments are affected by two factors, 1) the amount of rain that falls in catchments and 2) evaporation from soils in catchment areas (caused by increased air temperatures).

    The combined decline can be apportioned 70 percent to increased soil dryness and 30 percent to declining rainfall. I have to add that Tasmania is not necessarily receiving less rain together, but this is happening in the vital hydro catchment areas – in central Tasmania and the South West.

    What is happening is a partial shift in rainfall patterns whereby we are receiving more rain in the North East and generally less in the south west (frontal rain). This in part is caused by rain fronts tending to pass to the south of Tasmania while low pressure systems off eastern Australia are influencing Tasmania more than they used to.

    A shift in water inflows into hydro-electric catchments was predicted by the research organisation set up to monitor likely impacts of climate change in Tasmania – the Cooperative Research Centre. It’s prediction is that this changing trend will continue through this century.

    The reduced inflows into hydro catchments has also been accepted by Hydro Tasmania which, in response to declining water inflows from 1970 to 1995, officially reduced the rated generation capacity of it energy system by ten percent in 2007.

    Again, we can’t fault the Hydro nor government for these changed conditions, we just need to accept them as reality and respond in the best possible ways.

    Regarding generation capacity at existing storages, we aren’t short of generators. The most cost effective way to build up hydro water storages there is to enable other generation to meet some power demand, and thus reduce the proportion of hydro power being needed – and thus allow those storages to build up. Generally it is being accepted that the best way to do that in the long term is to adjunct more wind power into the system. Augmenting more distributed solar can do the same, but is seen to be a less direct way in terms of government policy.

    Finally, hydro storages are also been depleted because there has been a policy vacuum in new energy developments whoever since Tasmania was connected to the Mainland via a DC power cable in 2006. So, as power demand in Tasmania has been incremental increasing during the past decade, there has been no commensurate increase in supply. There has been an over reliance on exporting peak power and importing off peak to try to balance storage levels but this policy has proved to be rather calamitous. Recommendations have been made (and have been accepted by state government) that we need to manage Hydro storages more prudently in future.

  10. Skuli Johannsson

    September 21, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    Are the smelting industries still there?
    The variable rainfall from year to year does not manifest itself in the short reservoir content series (2011-2017) I found at the Hydro Tasmanian home site.
    Has there been a long term downward trend in the river flow of Tasmania? It has been the opposite here in Iceland where river flow has gradually been increasing in recent years.
    This does not change the fact that there is an interesting opportunity to make better use of the large reservoir capacity in Tasmania before adding new pumping stations.
    Maybe new pumping stations should be built next to unused water storage capacity?

  11. Chris Harries

    September 21, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Hi again Skuli, (#58),

    Two issues there. One I’ve just answered to another questioner. In short: those very large water storages have been primarily built to cater for smelting industries in Tasmania that require constant load throughout the Summer months. Ideally they should be full at this time of year, but they aren’t. We get very variable rainfall from year to year.

    Secondly, climate change is adversely affecting hydro-electric systems around the world and the Tasmanian system is no exception. I don’t think we can blame Tasmanian authorities for this problem, it’s one they just have to cope with. Basically, we don’t get as much water as we used to and this has knocked off a large slice of generation capacity.

    On the plus side, this means that we now have a lot of flexibility in adding other generation to make up for this. The empty dam capacity can be utilised and should be. I think there’s general across the board agreement about that, but a lot of political tardiness in doing much about it.

  12. Skuli Johannsson

    September 21, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    I do not believe in such conspiracies.
    I am curious about why you are building such large dams if they are not fully utilized?
    Data from Hydro Tasmania indicate that it is mainly in the two reservoirs, Great Lake and Lake Gordon.
    It’s like the dams have been built too big from the start.
    Is that a fact?
    There are certain possibilities in utilizing the excessive storage better.

  13. Chris Harries

    September 21, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Hi Skuli (#56),

    Yes, sensible questions and I think the Hydro Tas would quietly agree with you. It is not Hydro Tasmania that is primarily pushing for Mr Groom’s grand scheme but I guess if you are a corporate body and it looks like the political system may throw you some money to do mad things then you probably wouldn’t say no because money is money.

    This is where politics and physics can be a bad mix.

  14. Skuli Johannsson

    September 21, 2017 at 1:32 am

    In the period June 2011 to June 2017, the content of hydro storage in the Tasmanian power system was (MIN, Average; MAX) = (13%; 39%; 62%).
    Why don‘t you make more use of the existing storage capacity of your hydro power system before adding new pumping storage?
    Perhaps there are explanations for this.
    I have sent questions to Hydro Tasmania, but no answer.

  15. Chris Harries

    September 20, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    Yes, (#54) well, the perceived problem with private wind farms is that they are deemed to be in market competition with the state-owned utilities. This is how Treasury sees it anyway. That’s why it’s taken so long for the public utilities to be made to cooperate rather than hinder these projects coming on line. It was, ironically, the Basslink failure that put a bomb under the state government… realising that Basslink can cripple the Tasmanian system at any moment if it fails… that has enabled the go ahead of these. At least a go-ahead on paper at this stage.

  16. Robin Charles Halton

    September 20, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    Out of the blue Tasmania suddenly has 2500 “potential” pumped Hydro sites!
    The nation has racked up a total of 25,000 sites!

    How is it the brains trust, Hydro Tasmania and their hangers on Transend and Entura failed to mention during the 25 years when Wind generationhastaking off as a part of the mix for Renewables!

    Wind generation investment has now stopped for reasons “beyond our public knowledge” and has been used as as political play toy to “amuse” the public!

    Media grabs a skit now and again about the wind farm potential at Heemskerk and Cattle Hill at Lake Echo to sweeten our enthusiasm the government is proactive!

    You bet as I cannot remember a worst time for electricity development uncertainty!

  17. Chris Harries

    September 20, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    But, Lee (# 52) that would also need to survive business scrutiny as well.

    Basslink 1 has had a problem, as well know, but it is not down and out. It can export at a rate of 6oo MW at peaks. But the fact that at the end of the day Tasmania has to sell into a competitive market and if it can’t do it on price, then it can’t do it. Simple as that. Forking out $100 million per year service payments for another Basslink, added to the current one, would have to be part of that equation.

    I contest the idea that a second Basslink would necessarily work out economically, even if quite heavily subsidised.

    At present the business case doesn’t nearly stack up and I can’t see it doing so.

  18. Lee

    September 20, 2017 at 3:22 pm


    Chris, I understand there is one pie and once that is gone, that’s it. While it would be nice to have it fully funded, I suggested “heavily funded” which implies that there would be partial funding.

    I also suggested that this type of infrastructure may make Tasmania’s economic position better. This may well lead to less federal funding to Tasmania in future, which may allay WA’s whinge. Historically Tasmania has carried the burden of under-performing states if they care to look back to the early days. The whole battery thing is to carry the big island in its time of need anyway (and yes, it is only part of the puzzle, I don’t believe that we will carry them on our own).

    I agree there are other areas of the state that need infrastructure and not just Hobart’s hospital. Funnily enough, all of the states major hospitals appear to be under major stress.

    Agree also that what is done in Tasmania needs to be part of a big puzzle. It does appear to me though that this is something we could do well and other states do get large slices of other action. The once vibrant car industry was heavily subsidised and we didn’t get any of that. There are no doubt many better examples.

    This should be not about being equal but equitable. There are many opportunities that the big islanders have that Tasmania is not really in the running for.

  19. Chris Harries

    September 20, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    #48. There are three problems with expecting a federal government handout to pay for an added Basslink, Lee.

    1. WA has been running a persistent campaign that Tasmania has for years been enjoying excessive federal largesse. (This is often put down to Tasmanian marginal seats that tend to be significant in swinging national elections.) In terms of the current GST allocation debate it would be like red rag to a bull for the feds now to be handing over very large sums of free money to Tassie – especially for a tremulous project that everyone admits doesn’t even have a solid business case underneath it.

    2. Let’s hypothetically say that the feds did fork out $billion or so for this purpose. How would this fit into other infrastructure choices that could otherwise be funded (in Tasmania) with that kind of money? This is very pertinent to your proposal because only a certain amount of cash gets handed out for infrastructure developments to each state.

    Where’s the open public debate about infrastructure choices and expenditures? Does Hobart need a new hospital, for instance? (You can insert any number of alternative examples here. ) And, if so, is this need so much less important than another Basslink? In this light your proposal can be seen as a case of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.

    3. In addition, the feds just can’t be seen to be massively giving a leg up to one part of the energy supply industry. Because to do so would impinge on their free market, level playing field, ideology. The result would be another Monty Python ton of concrete landing on their own heads – a ding-dong dogfight as the other market utilities cried foul.

  20. George Smiley

    September 20, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    #47 Robin nails it very well. And the mainland markets we hope to be batterising are beyond rationality; a three or more-way political ***tfight with the Libs as the worst offender. Abbott’s lofty ‘no-subsidies for renewables stance’ looks like absolute crap against the party’s insistence on the coal-fired Liddell power station which will take a billion $ of public money just to keep it going UNTIL the scheduled closure if the AGL board is worth its salt. Public money is no object when it comes to conventional generation and now it is enshrined in the party line; committed as they are to cheap and plentiful power for all Australians. So much for the magic hand of the markets. As John Hewson recently pointed out whatever happened to economic rationalism? And the equally useless and dysfunctional Labor Party can just sit back and wait for its own turn at the public trough.

  21. Chris Harries

    September 20, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    I think you are mostly correct, Robin. The original sales pitch for Basslink was for Tasmania to make lots of money selling into the mainland market and that aspiration has landed us in a very wonky situation whereby we became reliant on a increasingly dysfunctional system over there and our energy security has diminished rather than being enhanced. The big utilities have the NEM working to their advantage.

    Pumped-hydro does have relevance in power generation systems that will increasingly rely on erratic power supplies such as solar and wind. But erratic generation isn’t Tasmania’s electricity supply problem. Our system can handle quite significant amounts of solar and wind power generated in Tasmania with relative ease.

    As for the long term role of pumped-hydro in Australia, here’s one researcher’s assessment of 22,000 potential sites across the nation …


    The main point Blakers is making is that “all you need is a reservoir and a big hill”. I would also add… proximity to supply and end use markets makes the biggest difference to the bottom line.

    As a general principle, for the unit cost of wind and solar to be actually competitive with base load power generation the cost of constructing pumped hydro (or battery or other storage) infrastructure needs to be added to their developmental costs – and ideally installed in parallel as part of the business plan rather than in hindsight. Large generation systems can handle modest inputs of erratic power, but when that erratic input becomes large enough to impact on base load reliability then storage becomes an essential design component of that development.

    It’s worth noting that it has actually been viable for pumped water storage to be used in conjunction with coal fired power for decades – so as to help flatten load and allow those generators to be run at peak efficiency rather than try to match their output with fluctuation power demand. However, this consideration was never entertained because burning cheap coal very inefficiently was not seen to be a major problem economically or environmentally – climate change wasn’t on anyone’s radar. So they just sold off peak-power more cheaply to try to get consumers to help flatten out those annoying spikes. It’s not all about renewable power.

  22. Lee

    September 20, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    #47 RCH

    Think you have nailed it here Robin, the Basslink debacle is a big dark cloud. Before Tasmania can be of any further use to the country in this debate, we must have diversity. The second Basslink cable is essential. This would be a “nation building exercise” so it should be heavily subsidised federally. This subsidisation would also be feeding Tasmania future income so it would not only assist the big islanders but would increase Tasmania’s ability to support itself better into the future.

  23. Robin Charles Halton

    September 20, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Too many dreamers fiddling with the pumped Hydro concept possibly as an excuse to divert attention away from the two Renewable projects that were well advanced to the investment stage.
    I wonder why the Heemskerk and Lake Echo windfarm projects have suddenly gone quiet!

    Current Wind farm investment at Woolnorth and Mussleroe is a JV with 50% owned by the Chinese and the remainder by the State Government.
    I suspect that future investment by Chinese have been scared off by the broken Bass Link cable and that Tasmania lacks direction and certainty for its electricity future.

    Pumped hydro is an excuse to divert attention away from the obvious, Bass Link has now failed economically and cannot be relied on in the future as the Link ages.

    Tasmania is a small player within the NEM and has no choice other than to scale back and look after its own affairs by firing up the expensive Tamar Valley PS, allowing our lakes to fill to combat potential drier summers and uncertainty and facing the prospect of looking after our own needs as a priority instead of being a scapegoated to provide for the increasing electricity crisis across the water in SA, Vic and now NSW via the Bass Link setup.

    The days of the supposed “Cash Cow” electricity sales to the mainland are over as SA, Vic and NSW go from one power crisis to another.

    In effect Tasmania must aim to become self contained and economical with its electricity usage as i also suspect prices here could surge as we are now becoming more dependent on the expensive gas fired Tamar Valley power station as a permanent part of our generation capacity.

  24. Chris Harries

    September 19, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    I don’t know the area, George (#45). AGL says they would split the lake into two levels. I’m presuming they’ve done a back of the envelope study of energy potential at least.

    I am also presuming that the lake is an artificial one, created to supply water for the Liddell steam generators. If that water storage is usable as pumped-hydro instead (yes, there would need to be a decent drop to a lower level) then it’s probably worth them looking at the prospect.

    Viability aside, the point I was making is that if pumped-hydro works anywhere it is best for it to be close to existing grid infrastructure and also close to end users. Not does it conceptually need to be build around live river systems.

  25. George Smiley

    September 19, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    #43 Chris,
    Looking at the pic of the landscape and lake any pumped hydro would have to be somewhere else as the water needs to go someplace up to have a storage volume with a decent head above the turbines. It is all so insane it probably began as a joke, a throw-away line the journo dutifully made into an article.

    #44 Lee
    The subsidized power has always been worth a bomb of public money if it carries Bass.

  26. Lee

    September 19, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    I believe there was a study done where the financial support for the aluminium smelter would have more than paid the wages of the employees not to work. The power from the savings would be worth a bomb interstate

  27. Chris Harries

    September 18, 2017 at 10:16 pm

    I don’t know how real this mooted project is, but AGL – the owners of Liddell power station – are now talking about an on-site pumped hydro as a replacement for when it closes it down.


    Demonstrating that pumped hydro doesn’t need to be located in river systems but as stand alone. This is where the future of pumped hydro is likely to be, in locations where a body of stored water can be pumped back and forth close to transmission infrastructure.

  28. mike seabrook

    September 18, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    #28 lake peddar decreases the flood impact on main street huonville and the huon river banks

    build an other hydro dam below scotts peak dam to better floodproof huonville should be prioritised – and also a magnificent tourism, fishing , recreational dam est. 1 hour south of hobart.

  29. mike seabrook

    September 18, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    i believe that all plans have been done for a pumped storage on the upper henty to lake anthony – which is near to the most economic on the list .

    the gordon-below-franklin is much more economic as no need to pay for water to be pumped up hill

    makes sense only if the pollies continue the special deals to the hobart zinc works and the bell bay aluminium smelter at est. 4c per kwh delivered – paid for by whom?????

  30. George Smiley

    September 17, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    Having split the wiring on my home and put in a stand-alone battery system and another 3.5 Kw of solar on my garage roof to supplement my grid-integrated non battery, legacy tariff feed-in system my power bills are essentially zero except the coldest winter quarter. Of course the feed-in tariff virtually disappears next year.

    No-one in their right mind would want to do without the grid and modern inverters click it in almost flawlessly to supplement surges in use or low batteries in bad weather. So this is my small contribution to the use of hydro as Australia’s battery. Of course the question remains as to whether the ‘magic of the markets’ after 2018 will still prompt me to retain my connection to the grid or will I tell them to %$$% themselves and stick another battery and small diesel generator in the equation.

  31. Chris Harries

    September 17, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    It was just another dam on the Hydro’s books, Mike. And just as prone to drought conditions as the rest of its system. In this era and with its $1 billion cost the return investment proposition would have not been quite so economically rosy.

    That said, hydro-electricity overall has got many advantages, being the only large scale, base load renewable energy supply but it also has severe limitations. Energy issues always comes back to the ‘no free lunch’ paradigm.

  32. mike seabrook

    September 17, 2017 at 12:28 am

    and no gordon-below-franklin – which is the most standout highest rate of return investment proposition – and would send a message to the world that tassie is reopen for business

  33. Leonard Colquhoun

    September 14, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Just about Malcolm II the Unready ‘pumps up’ will deflate by default under even the most cursory of scrutiny.

    AS the PM who (in)famously whined that one of his (real) PM predecessors “broke Australia’s heart”, he has done little but break his promises and our wallets.

  34. lee

    September 12, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    If they were serious and wanted to do this economically, they would invite all Tasmanians to install their privately funded solar systems and pay a 1:1 feed in tariff. This would mean Tasmanians would get a “battery” and Aurora could then sell green power across the strait. This would reinforce the “Clean Green” that Tasmania wants to sell the world. The power sold back across the strait could attract a premium price more than compensating for the locals gaining a battery service from the grid. The locals are already paying a grid usage fee though their service connection so the 1:1 would be a win for all. Tasmania has a minimum of 10% capacity absorption before we reach break even, then anything above this is pure profit.

  35. Kelvin Jones

    September 12, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    #24 Ted Mead it would be interesting to know just how the politicos come to a decision. I read the paper you posted and to be fair it did say it was a summery of several more detailed papers. However, to me it did seem that the filter of the economist highly influenced the presentation of the information to the reader.

    As someone whose original roots was was in power electrical engineering. In fact I think I actually worked in my base training on one Liddell’s generators in manufacture. Later studied on a science level human energy systems. I find considerable incongruity in current political ability to cope with the current situation. A cock up of the first order.

    Within this article Basslink could be described simply two ways. Firstly a very long pointless water heater and secondly a neat device to make lots of money.

    Using that as the example it is easy to see in this world of the “economic Mandarins” how politicians are influenced.

    However, the physics of energy take no notice of decisions made on monetary economics. Such types of decisions can therefore come round and bite one on the bum.

    Our problem seems to me, from studying the relationship of energy technology (including agriculture) to human progress. We have come to the end of an era that started in around 1400 with invention of the windmill and the water wheel. The true start of the industrial revolution. We have been on an exponential ever expanding energy ride since. We have now come more or less the end of the development line, physics are now limiting us. However it is the greenhouse that has brought us to a crashing Holt. The energy performance envelope of renewables particularly wind and solar is not as good as fossils or nuclear fuels.

    The above excellent discussion highlights this frustration of the physical barriers on energy our society is now facing.

    We are clawing at extracting the last of the high quality energy reserves that do not pollute and have still have not been utilized.

  36. Chris Harries

    September 12, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Peter Godfrey (#33), thanks…. you’ve pointed to a side issue that most people would not be on top of.

    Malcolm Turnbull has not promised to fund the proposed Snowy II scheme. Nor will he. Nor is he able to do so in relation to pumped-hydro in Tasmania.

    The only thing that he has promised to fund is a feasibility study into the Snowy 11 project. There is a sound political reason for this. The federal government can’t be seen to be directly entering the competitive electricity market and giving one enterprise a leg up with heaps of free taxpayer money. All hell would break loose if they were to do so. The religion underpinning the national energy market is that it must be a level playing field. The feds have a very limited role in regulation, and they are not even on top of that.

    The Tas government may be able to wangle some feasibility study cash and, at a pinch, some support for a transmission cable but anything more than that would have to be paid for wholly by Tasmania or by the private sector.

    This is where the reality of competitive economics comes into play. At the end of the day, whatever grand energy enterprises are established in Tasmania have to compete profitably in the national energy market pool – bidding against all the other players who are in there aggressively competing as well. If we were to fail on this score then we would land up in a much bigger financial pickle than we are in now. The current $90 million-plus annual Basslink service payments would be peanuts as compared to the financial encumbrances being talked up at present.

    Brainless economic risk taking is what will mainly show this mega project up as pie-in-the-sky. But I believe the Tas government knows all this. We need to look to the politics being played out.

  37. Peter Godfrey

    September 12, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Pumped Hydro only works when you have an excess of energy that you can use to pump the water back up to the dam above the power station.
    So where will this excess energy come from.
    Surely we are not talking about using dirty coal energy when it is cheap to pump the water back up the hill.
    It appears to be a very cynical political exercise really.
    If we had wind powered pumps that pushed the water back up the hill maybe it would work, if we had wind turbines in excess maybe it would work.
    The big BUT is that we would need to deliberately create excess generator capacity in order to use pumped hydro.
    And we do not need to do any of it.
    The only bonanza for Tasmania would be that we would get federal money to build pumped hydro schemes that we don’t need.
    Oh damn I forgot it is all about Jobs Jobs Jobs at any cost. There is an election coming, how silly of me.

  38. Peter Fagan

    September 12, 2017 at 3:07 am

    Chris #28

    You wrote:

    “A pumping station below the Serpentine Dam could render Lake Pedder as a pumped-hydro facility itself”.

    I don’t think that is how such a scheme would be designed.

    Yes, for Middle Gordon power scheme pumped hydro, the lower reservoir would be below the junction of the Serpentine and Gordon Rivers.

    However the shortest distance for a recharge tunnel would take water straight back to Lake Gordon, not via “new” Lake Pedder (Huon-Serpentine Impoundment).

    If the Huon-Serpentine Impoundment was lowered to become a “pond” behind the Serpentine dam, full at 290.5 Metres Above Sea Level (ASL), the original Lake Pedder would no longer be flooded and restoration of the landscape could commence.

    A separate tunnel could take the Serpentine River flows into Lake Gordon which would have a new Full Storage Level set at 289 M. When full at this level, there would be a head of 171 M to the turbines.

    On this basis, the Middle Gordon Power scheme could be converted to pump-back pumped storage operation.

    The power station could of course also operate conventionally – generating once and releasing its water to the Gordon River.

    Converting the Middle Gordon scheme to pump-back operation would make use of the already built:
    – Dam (Australia’s tallest)
    – Power station turbines and generators
    – Positions in station for additional turbines and generators
    – Tailrace tunnel with spare capacity
    – Switching yard and transmission lines

    Conversion on this basis is compatible with restoration of Lake Pedder, by far Australia’s most valuable “drowned” natural heritage and tourism asset.

    Tasmania’s political parties should be working with Hydro Tasmania to explore this win-win opportunity.

  39. Ted Mead

    September 12, 2017 at 1:36 am

    #30 – The section of the Huon River that was impounded by the Lake Pedder scheme only represents about 1% of the entire Huon catchment.

    Huonville prior to the damning of Lake Pedder would have been subjected to the same occurrences of flooding in the past.

    The only other site that the HEC found suitable for a dam wall was just upstream of the Arve River confluence.

    There is probably zero chance of another dam on the Huon proceeding!

  40. mike seabrook

    September 12, 2017 at 12:29 am

    # 28

    lake peddar partly flood proofs the lower huon/main street of huonville

    improve the flood proofing with a hydro/recreational dam on the huon river below scotts peak dam

  41. Geoffrey Swan

    September 11, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    On reading the collection of letters in today’s Mercury on this subject it is apparent none of them have read your well written article Chris.

    Though there was one very clever short comment suggesting the task at hand to include a further two underwater links be given to Rob Stitch and his Utopia team to evaluate.

  42. Chris Harries

    September 11, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Kimball, (#27), nice thought and plenty would agree but I think in practice it would work the other way around.

    Lake Pedder is currently a ‘dead’ body water in that it isn’t utilised directly for power generation. A pumping station below the Serpentine Dam could render Lake Pedder as a pumped-hydro facility itself and finally give it a reason d’être – other than as a flow over for Lake Gordon.

    I think one big-picture problem we now have is that when pumped-hydro started to get talked up in recent times it quickly became a magic solution for many environmental people – partly because the technology is little understood. So now lots of people are rooting for pumped-hydro solutions. Gotta have one of those!

    It has its place for sure, in certain locations, but why oh why does Tasmania need to entertain that hugely costly path when we could have a ten year forward agenda that simply makes Tasmania self sufficient in renewable electrical energy?

  43. Kimball Johnston

    September 11, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    Assuming that the issue of avoiding fossil fuel use is resolved, and pumped Hydro can be done cleanly & economically, why not use one of the pumped hydro schemes to drain and restore Lake Pedder back to its original pink quartz, fresh water beach?
    Believe it or not, this was exactly one of the alternative proposals (then called “pumped storage”) that was investigated by Hydro fifty years ago before Lake Pedder was so unnecessarily flooded for base political reasons. It was the preferred scheme of the Lake Pedder Action committee at the time, and is also much the same as the proposed restoration scheme put forward last year by the current Lake Pedder Restoration group(lakepedder.org).
    The cost of a reduction in Hydro storage (most of the expanded Lake Pedder’s water cannot be used for electricity generation) would easily be replaced several times over by the boost to tourism if this world class attraction was available once again with towns like Strathgordon and Maydena potentially joining Strahan as Tassie success stories.

  44. Mike Bolan

    September 11, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    From the perspective of anyone wanting more personal freedom, local energy storage is a real positive. For the ‘powers that be’ however, it’s a threat. It’s clear that a distributed energy storage system is far more robust than a grid that demands so much energy just to run it (hear that hum…that’s waste!).
    We should remember that making a population dependent on their ‘masters’ is a key strategy to build and retain political power. The grid is not really a place to be if you want controlled costs, freedom and reliability of energy. Unreliable energy grids have been identified as a probable single point sensitivity in social/civilisation collapse (see https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/09/this-is-how-your-world-could-end-climate-change-global-warming).

  45. O'Brien

    September 11, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    What happens when all that dam wall concrete rots out? How is something like that repaired? Who pays?

  46. Ted Mead

    September 11, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Before any Tasmanian politician or government considers a policy on energy requirements they need to have a damn good read of their own department’s analysis –


    Considering the maximum of energy consumption in the forthcoming years is projected at only 2%, then that demand could easily be met through wind and p/v renewable-energy supply.

    The Liberals’ pipe dream of being a battery for the rest of the country is ludicrous.

    With the present low-water storage levels, an unreliable Basslink, and no certainty for massive renewable energy expansion, then any form of energy exports is unlikely and a high risk $ investment/poor return to consider.

    Hydro currently produces 2276 MW or 81% of Tasmania’s energy.
    45% of that is used for smelting.

    It is highly unlikely that the demand for energy from the antiquated smelting industries will continue beyond 2025. If that is the case, then there will no demand for hydro electricity energy expansion.

    If the above eventuates then there will be a surplus of over 1000MW, and so any infrastructure relating to pumped hydro would become instantly obsolete.

    Whilst I’m not a great advocate for wind farms and undersea energy transfer cables, a second Basslink connecting the proposed massive King Island wind-farm project has far more merit than some fantasy hydro-pumping idea using imported coal energy to drive it!

  47. Tony Stone

    September 11, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    Only one secure way Tas could become the battery for Aus, that’s to put solar, small wind and lifepo4 storage on all homes and buildings round the state, then we would have the ability to export and not effect domestic energy supplies.

    It would be much better to not export our pump hydro energy, but use it to develop and drive 21st century technologies and industry.

    This way we could help Aus when they struggle for energy, develop our own secure future and drive real 21st century safe economic growth in Tas.

    If we provide low cost hydro/pump to industry making electric vehicles, solar panels, lifepo4 cells and their associated technology, we could turn Tas around very quickly.

  48. Chris Harries

    September 11, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    Hi Peter (#20), long time no see.

    Actually I do include those issues in the article, but for brevity’s sake not completely.

    Yes, Tasmanian-based renewable energy can be added to the existing generation system significantly – using the present configuration and absorb that generated energy into the exiting reservoirs, thus obviating the need to import or run Bell Bay thermal.

    The point about coffer dams ameliorating downstream flow is partly correct. A lot depends on whether or not there is a suitable location to build a secondary dam immediately downstream of the relevant impoundment. What if there isn’t? Then there’s the considerable impact of building those 15 dams themselves, along with roading and high tension electricity towers.

    You are correct that you can keep pumping water up hill and generating back from it downhill (albeit noting that each cycle you lose energy). This is where pumped-hydro comes in in places such as South Australia. You don’t actually need a river at all, just a gravitational head and a place to store the water. This where old open cut mines can be utilised and are being considered in some places

    The point is that using pumped-hydro in a massive centralised fashion – to support an over centralised national power grid – requires very long distance transmission and unnecessary energy losses and impacts.

    If I were to calculate the actual transmission losses from, say, Loy Yang power station, there would be a series of losses: 1) From Loy Yang to Basslink. 2) This AC power is then transformed through rectiformers to convert it to DC to go through Basslink. 3) On reaching Tasmania it goes through another set of rectiformers to convert it back to AC. 4) Then send it 200 km to a coffer dam somewhere below Gordon Power Station. 4) Then pump it up into Lake Gordon. 5) Recover it again several hours later generating from Gordon 1 back down to the coffer dam. 6) Then send it 200 km back to Basslink. 7) Go through the same AC to DC conversions. 8) Then send it to the user destinations – wherever they may be.

    I’m not opposing the concept of using pumped-hydro as a form of energy storage where that technology is sensible. But we are going to find out that fairly close proximity location is important when doing energy cycling over 24 hours.

    I would add onto all this the need for of local resilience and decentralisation of grids. The massive national electricity market that has been set up is turning out to be a nightmare. What’s gong to happen in time is a break up back towards localised power supply, at least to some degree.

    We are seeing the folly of going down the fully privatised, fully centralised national energy market in Australia. We need egos step on the brakes and make our energy systems fit for purpose.

  49. Gordon Bradbury

    September 11, 2017 at 11:17 am

    That’s not Spring in the air. That’s the smell of testosterone and election fever.

    Bring on the parades. Bring on the dancing girls and marching bands!

    Bring on the promises of money and jobs, money and jobs, money and jobs!!!

    And don’t forget the “Grand Visions”. Especially for Tasmania.

    Tasmania is the home of “Grand Visions”.

    Isn’t it so tedious/odious?

  50. Peter Fagan

    September 11, 2017 at 2:49 am

    Hi Chris

    Broadly speaking I agree with your analysis of the current situation.

    However your analysis assumes that the source of the electrical energy for the pumping phase of the pumped-hydro cycle is ALWAYS going to be coal burnt in thermal power stations on mainland Australia, with attendant prohibitively high losses of energy during bi-directional transmission.

    But what if Tasmania increased its wind capacity? And the SOLE source of the energy for the pumping phase of the pumped-hydro cycle was wind turbines located in Tasmania – a genuine renewable energy source, without the massive transmission losses you rightly identify if the energy for the pumping phase was to be imported from mainland Australia?

    Two other issues:

    You are rightly concerned about “the huge implications for downstream river ecologies consequent running our rivers madly for short bursts”.

    However each pumped hydro scheme necessarily involves a lower reservoir. Do you not appreciate that these lower reservoirs are explicitly designed to mitigate the short bursts of high volume discharged from upstream power stations by capturing the water for pumping back to their upper reservoirs? I have advice that some power schemes that run in short bursts to deliver peak load power would do less damage to the rivers downstream of their turbines if they had lower reservoirs installed.

    You rightly point out that “our dams are rarely full. Mostly below 50 percent full. The plus side is that is unused storage capacity can be used to store energy, immediately, from any other source.”

    Why are you unwilling to consider that other source of energy could be water captured and recycled after a first use for hydro generation? Pumped storage enables the water captured in hydro storages to be used not once but many times. Why are you insistent that water in storages be used only once?



  51. George Smiley

    September 10, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    17 Yes, Chris water is pretty gunky and if you could get away with an electrical to mechanical pumping transaction and back for merely 20% that’s only a 10% loss each way which is pushing towards perpetual motion. Since you would save 10 % on transmission losses not getting power up to the Snowy it might be almost worth using hydro generated power to pump the water back up. So I will stick with at least a 35% loss for those two legs. As usual I hope I’m wrong.

  52. Kelvin Jones

    September 10, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    Chris Harries..… A good summing article, I just wonder how our political leaders can come out with the statements they do. Surely their advisors brief them that there are laws of physics that govern what is achievable by our engineers.

    Energy is a subject which most people including many highly educated in other fields do not fully understand. Unfortunately high school physics stop short of a full understanding. It seems most of our politicians fall into this category.

    Consequently we are all now suffering from a trial and error energy policy based on political ideology. Unfortunately the errors have multiplied and the mainland South East grid system is broken.

    Far from being “green” we now have to spend more carbon based energy just to get back a viable power supply.

  53. Chris Harries

    September 10, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    Apologies George (#13) if I slightly mis-read your comment. I thought you were saying that the 20 percent calculated energy loss is later recovered when generating. But reading again I think you were saying there’s a further 20 percent loss when generating.

    Yes, frictional losses are incurred with both pumping and generation, but I believe the net transactional energy loss for pumped-hydro is accepted as being in the order of 20 percent total. If you believe this figure should be higher… yes that is probable, but for the moment I’prefer to stay with the accepted number.

  54. Michael Stasse

    September 10, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    Great article Chris. Apart from everything you have said, we are simply heading into a global energy crisis. By 2020 Australia will be importing 100% of its liquid fuels, and there are no guarantees we will be able to continue importing as much as we are when everyone else, not least the oil producing nations themselves, also want more and more from less and less…….

    By the time this hare brained scheme is designed and costed and tenders are called, there may not be available enough diesel to run the earth-moving machinery the scheme will require.

    The only solution is to use less, and nobody ever mentions that. We truly live in lala land.

  55. Second Opinion

    September 10, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    The flaw in any proposal is the perceived need to use electricity, however generated, as the means of restoring dam levels.
    The source of that power; it’s variability, and the time scale over which it can operate with regard to downstream storage capacity; determines an outcome that works.
    Any such scheme necessarily involves coal-derived energy.
    Tasmania is best placed to keep it’s clean energy output; the better to attract investment to Tasmania.
    That, or be mendicant.

  56. Chris Harries

    September 10, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    George, your first para is simply untrue. The fact that energy is lost in pumping is simply accepted fact and this is not under dispute. Hydro Tas uses the same figure of energy 20 percent energy loss in the transaction between pumping and generation.

    In theory, yes it would take the same amount of energy to pump up as you recover when it comes back down, but there isn’t an energy transfer technology in existence that’s 100 percent efficient. In the case of pumping water, energy is lost both in the pumping turbine itself and in having to overcome fluid flow friction within the piping system.

  57. George Smiley

    September 10, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Sorry Chris (Harries) but you lose 20 percent pumping water up and turning it into potential energy, you also lose it AGAIN frictionally as it comes back down through the generators. Of course the bright side is that in each cumulative loss calculation you are coming off a reduced base so you can never actually reach zero.

    Turnbull’s bright young hirelings warbling about the ‘proven technology of pumped hydro’ might yet help win him an election but they would serve the nation better spending their summers hiking bucketfuls up to Jindabyne.

    And now he is to meet with the AGL people; ensuring the cheap abundant energy that is the right of every Australian yada yada can be maintained by extending the life of their coal burner, wherever good old Liberal rational market economics went. AGL must be rubbing their hands and licking their lips at the thought of turning over short-term upgrades and maintenance and hundreds of millions in decommissioning costs and environmental remediation to the taxpayer.

    And re ‘cheap power’ let’s not forget just how the networks fell from public ownership in the first place. These too were short term political decisions of the money-grubbing variety.

  58. Ivo Edwards

    September 10, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Thanks Chris Harries. Your post is a wonderful example of logic and analytical thinking, cutting surgically through the spin, fake truth and bullshit of our politicians.

  59. Chris

    September 9, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    For what its worth (from Chris #1,
    Any place in Tasmania is “close” to transmission lines.
    I make no claims for or against but, explore ?


  60. Russell

    September 9, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    Re #1
    .8 of 1 is a 20% loss.

    I don’t think you can pump water uphill and make a profit when it comes free via gravity the other way around. Unless you have some massive Glockmann pump, but I doubt you would ever get the flows required.

    Re #6 & 9
    I have real concerns with tapping into geothermal, especially when such technology has already confirmed my fears with cooling the interior of the planet down.

    Why do we mess with things which are the building blocks of our planet and existence?

    What the hell is wrong with using the most efficient and safest nuclear power source, the Sun, for all our energy needs and which will be available for billions of years?

    All new and rebuilt structures should be legislated to cover their roofs with solar panels and that would provide enough energy supply indefinitely into the future.

  61. Chris Harries

    September 9, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    Just so there’s no confusion in identity…. I’m not the Chris at #3. That’s another Chris.

    But yes, Simon (#6) you’ve identified a logistical problem with low key geothermal. How do you keep relocating to tap into hot rocks and then move on when the heat is taken out of them? Overcoming this would require a mobile power transition (poles, wires and transformer) system and that’s where the viability breaks down at present.

    That’s not to say there may not be breakthrough some time on that front. Meanwhile wind energy technology is now off the shelf, so to speak.

    (Geothermal heat is more tappable as heat, rather than as electricity.)

  62. Andrew

    September 9, 2017 at 10:59 am

    #6 – My understanding is that geothermal energy for power generation is more feasible in areas where the geothermal gradient is much higher than in Tasmania (such as NZ), otherwise very long holes need to be drilled to access the rock temperatures needed. Also, at the project on which I worked, fracking was used to increase the surface area of the fracture network between the boreholes, so it may not be palatable in Tasmania.It caused mini-earthquakes that were felt by the locals!

  63. mike seabrook

    September 9, 2017 at 3:07 am

    you forgot transformation losses to dc and back

  64. Simon Warriner

    September 9, 2017 at 2:51 am

    Chris, I don’t know the answer to this but it strikes me as a little odd that if hot rock geothermal energy is such a great idea the actual expression of it in actual generating capacity is so obviously lacking.

    I was working on a geothermal power station in NZ nearly 40 years ago. That bore field went dry and a new field was started up a few k’s down the road. it took less than 5 years to build from scratch. I have been listening to people spruik “hot rocks” geothermal in Tas for well over ten years. Why isn’t any energy being generated yet? Could it be that the hype is ahead of the reality?

  65. Frank again

    September 9, 2017 at 1:30 am

    Re #3 Chris:” 3.There’s Geothermal every where down the middle of Tasmania.”
    I would suggest there could and there should be ‘Biothermal’, or if you like you may wish to call it “solar-chlorophyll-thermal energy) available everywhere available outside the no go / wilderness areas and all over a responsibly managed, healthy and productive landscape on Tasmania’s Main- Island, Flinders I. and King I. for future carbon negative, climate positive developments.
    Only time will be judge.

  66. Peter Godfrey

    September 8, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Dead right Chris.
    It is all pie in the sky.
    If we had excess power to export then maybe, but as you say we don’t.
    The dams are in the low 40% range now.
    We need what water we have for summer.
    With two Basslink cables we could supply only 5% of the mainlands power needs. Not much of a battery is it.
    It appears to be a cynical vote catching exercise and nothing else.

  67. Chris

    September 8, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    There’s Geothermal every where down the middle of Tasmania.

    How many windmills will be needed to reduce Hydro output to relieve the pressure on dams and how much will they cost and if we pay for them, and we will, who will own them?

    Will the Fat Controller take a degree in electrical engineering so he can, like Brandis explain metadata, or will he rely on millions being spent to tell us that water does not run uphill, but must be pumped AT A HUGE COST !

    If everyone in Tasmania had a 10 kw solar installation, subsidised by allowing the citizens to pay over time via their feed in tariff then the Hydro batteries would top up and extra employment would zing.

  68. Simon Warriner

    September 8, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    Yes, John, you are right. There are losses in the pumping that don’t get recouped on generation.

    Very well put Chris. The best way to use our hydro resource is to go hell for leather with wind and solar and thus use the rainfall intot the dams as the battery.

    The reason our party politicians do not see this is because their interests are conflicted. They want coal to win because the coal comapanies fill the party coffers, and because their political opponents are more supportive of wind and solar.

    Just another small example of how voting for party politicians is supportive of wasting the taxpayers money.

  69. John Biggs

    September 8, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    Very convincing and clearly put Chris. In today’s Mercury there was a gung ho article on this. But “battery of the Nation” director Chris Gwynne said “For every one unit of power you need to pump it up you get .8 of a unit back when you generate.”

    Huh? That means you are in 10 per cent deficit doesn’t it? That you spend more power on power getting water up than you do when it gerates on its way down. That I can understand from your figures Chris, but that doesn’t help Gwynne’s case. Or maybe he is just not very good at explaining things.

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