The cost of setting up wind and solar power plants is high around the world. This, in turn, is boosting the demand for cost-effective energy storage. Given that there are 30,000 suitable agricultural dams in Australia alone, it is likely that this technology could play a valuable role worldwide. Especially this technology can prove useful for farmers in remote areas where grid connection is very expensive.
Farmers often pride themselves on their self-reliance. When you live away from cities, it makes sense to do as much work yourself as possible. Australia’s sheer size means that many remote farms have long been off the grid because it is often too expensive to obtain an electricity connection. But for those still dependent on the grid, there are new options. As solar energy becomes cheaper, more and more farms are aiming to become self-sufficient in electricity. But until now, going completely off the grid has been one stumbling block – solar intermittency. Solar power may be cheaper than ever. Batteries are an attractive solution. But they may not provide full day backup.
Generators provide reliable backup. But they also have negative aspects. Generators have to be re-supplied and produce harmful emissions. For farmers, now there is another option. Connect one of your dams to a river or connect two dams together to create a small pumped hydroelectric power plant to store electricity from solar energy for use at night. Our new research has identified more than 30,000 rural sites where micro-pumped hydropower could work. A typical plant can produce two kilowatts of electricity and store 30 kilowatt hours of energy. broad to subtle? Yes, farm work can be done with pumped hydropower.
Pumped hydroelectricity is essentially turning hydroelectric energy into batteries as well. Take two reservoirs, where one is higher than the other. When you have excess solar energy, you store it. How? Energy is used to pump the water upwards to the upper reservoir. When you need power later, you release water into the lower reservoir and a turbine produces electricity. For farmers, another opportunity is the ability to use existing dams and reduce pumped hydro construction costs. If it’s cheaper, it’s more viable.
Preliminary research on solar-powered irrigation systems using pumped hydropower suggests that the duration of use for this type of energy storage could be up to four times shorter than for batteries. As you might have guessed, the solution depends on the size of existing agricultural dams and rivers, and the topography of the land. Our research is the first continent-wide essment of potential pumped hydroelectric farm dam sites. For example, if you are in a drought-prone area with limited groundwater, it may not make sense to install pumped hydro. During a drought, you may need to water the field.
According to our research, 70 percent of the water in the dams is available for use, which does not account for drought or irrigation needs. The cost of setting up wind and solar power plants is high around the world. This, in turn, is boosting the demand for cost-effective energy storage. Given that there are 30,000 suitable agricultural dams in Australia alone, it is likely that this technology could play a valuable role worldwide. Especially this technology can prove useful for farmers in remote areas where grid connection is very expensive.
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