New Energy  Future 

Pumped Energy Storage: the missing link to a ~100% renewable energy future

Introduction 

ALICE has been working to move Alaska towards a new energy future in partnership with a revolving working group of renewable energy experts and advocates since 2014.  The lack of low-cost storage to balance variable renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, has long been a barrier.  In 2017, a member of our working group, Kerry Williams, had the brilliant idea to convert the existing Eklutna Hydroelectric Plant near Anchorage to Pumped Energy Storage (PES). This filled an important gap in the 100% puzzle and opened up many new possibilities. 

Pumped Energy Storage is a tried and true, low-cost technology that currently provides 95% of global energy storage.  Because it’s a closed-loop system, PES can be designed to have far fewer downstream effects on fisheries, wetlands and riparian ecosystems than conventional hydroelectric plants.  In some cases, PES may even help restore salmon runs and mitigate negative impacts from warming streams.   

In 2018, Alaska film-maker Bjorn Olson gave the Eklutna PES concept wings on his website Alaskans Know Climate Change .  One thing led to another and in January 2020, Governor Dunleavy requested a report comparing “the pros and cons”of Eklutna PES with Susitna-Watana Hydro.  

We produced, Pumped Energy Storage for Alaska: a path to lower energy costs for Alaska’s new energy future in early February, shortly after Governor Dunleavy dusted off Alaska’s 50% by 2025 renewable energy goal in his 2020 State of the State address and subsequent meetings with the legislature in Juneau.  In response, the governor directed the Alaska Energy Authority to conduct a study of the Eklutna PES-wind idea, expected to be completed in early 2021. 

Whats next?

ALICE and our PES team was recently awarded a Denali Commission grant to survey and design 30 (or more) PES-renewable energy powered microgrid systems in rural Alaska.  If implemented, PES could reduce energy costs significantly and move rural communities completely off costly and polluting diesel and heating fuel. Stay tuned for more on this exciting project!

We are also working with the Native Village of Eklutna to examine more closely how the Eklutna PES system could improve water management and assist ongoing Eklutna River salmon recovery efforts, energy generation and Anchorage’s long-term drinking water supply in a rapidly warming world. 

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