Pumped storage hydropower accounts for 95% of all utility-scale energy storage in the US.

There were hundreds of abandoned coal mines in southern Indiana in the late 20th century as other states started to shift away from coal and fossil fuel extraction as critical sources of electricity.

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Some legislation is being discussed to allow the mines to be used for a new purpose.  There are plans to convert some of them into pumped storage hydropower facilities designed by researchers at IUPUI and Carbon Solutions, LLC, in Bloomington, Indiana.  The renewable energy source generates electricity by using two reservoirs at different altitudes.  A turbine turns the kinetic energy of moving water into electricity.

This need for more environmentally friendly and affordable energy has led to a boom in pumped hydropower, accounting for 95 percent of utility-scale energy storage in the U.S.  The steep land contouring required by pumped storage hydropower plants may not seem to be available in Indiana’s generally flat topography.

Plans to convert pumped storage hydropower

Governor Eric Holcomb announced that Peter Schubert, a professor at IUPUI’s Lugar Center for Renewable Energy and head of its Renewable Energy Program, will serve on its 21st Century Task Force.  In addition to wind and solar power, he has been researching other renewable energy sources for over two decades.  Although the notion of exploiting inactive coal mines to implement it has gained traction only in the last few years.  He added that it would be far easier to bring more stations online if these underground mines could be tapped.  It’s complicated and, in many instances, expensive to get all the necessary permissions and follow all of the relevant federal, state, and municipal requirements.  That’s just one of the numerous problems.

Pumped-Storage Hydropower Using Abandoned Underground Mines (PSHAUM) supporters feel the concept has significant promise if the regulatory procedure can be successfully handled. To enable the conversion of the mines, Schubert and his colleagues at IUPUI have been collaborating with Bloomington-based firm Carbon Solutions LLC to develop and perfect the technology.  Mines at a suitable depth may be found at the Gibson Generating Station in Owensville, Indiana, in the state’s southwest corner.  Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) funding for a study to evaluate how the project’s PSHAUM technology may function with power facilities like Gibson Station recently earned the firm.

Kevin Ellett, co-founder, and president of Carbon Solutions, emphasized reducing component wear and tear while maintaining plant efficiency.  It is possible that locations like Gibson, which have a reservoir on the surface that has the required permissions and can contain several billion gallons of water, may house large grid-scale batteries once the technology is completely matured.  When it comes to the scope, Ellett says, “this truly could be implemented at several places in Indiana and of course throughout the United States.” “That’s when the game changes,” says the author.

A majority of legislators in Indiana are on board with the idea.  As of this writing, the Senate has approved a measure that will add pumped storage hydropower to the state’s voluntary clean energy portfolio standard program’s list of 21 certified clean energy projects.

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