Hitachi Energy delivers ‘world first’ technology for VERBUND pumped hydro plant


Hitachi Energy will supply equipment to improve the operational efficiency of a 45-year old pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) plant in Austria for owner VERBUND.

The Malta-Oberstufe plant in Carinthia, Austria, was commissioned in the late 1970s. Its upper reservoir sits almost 2,000 metres above sea level and it features the highest dam in Austria at 200 metres, part of which is one of Europe’s tallest curved walls.

The plant’s 1,500MW of turbines, like the turbines at most other pumped hydro plants around the world, have operated at a fixed speed since they were commissioned.

Hitachi Energy said a few days ago (9 February) that it supplied and completed installation of a static frequency converter (SFC) at the PHES facility that will enable the Malta-Oberstufe plant to operate at variable speed.

That means that its output can be adjusted to meet the grid conditions and water levels in the PHES’ two reservoirs. The speed is adjusted automatically.

That increases the efficiency of the pumped hydro turbines’ operation, but also allows for utility VERBUND to put the asset to providing grid-balancing services, and it increases the integration of renewable energy from variable sources like solar PV and wind onto the grid.

While Hitachi Energy has been making static frequency converter technology for almost as long as the VERBUND PHES plant has been in operation, this is the first time the solution has ever been deployed at a pumped hydro plant, the company claimed.

The SFC technology is used in various other applications and sectors including rail transport, ship-to-shore power conversion and grid intertie equipment. It basically allows AC loads to be met at different frequencies as required, with a rectifier converting AC voltage to DC and an inverter converting DC voltage to AC at the desired frequency.

While PHES is making a comeback globally, Austria and neighbouring Switzerland already have quite a high installed capacity, due to their mountainous topography. However, getting new sites built and permitted is another matter in the region, with the level of geoengineering required as well as need for community buy-in and acceptance among the barriers.

A new 20GWh plant did come online in Switzerland last year after 14 years of construction, but is a rare example of a new PHES plant in the region. Retrofitting existing plants with new technologies such as the SFC may also be an opportunity.

VERBUND recently said it is targeting increased investments in energy storage, particularly in Germany where the utility aims to deploy 1GW of battery storage by 2030.’ publisher Solar Media will host the 8th annual Energy Storage Summit EU in London, 22-23 February 2023. This year it is moving to a larger venue, bringing together Europe’s leading investors, policymakers, developers, utilities, energy buyers and service providers all in one place. Visit the official site for more info.

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