Eight reasons why Snowy 2.0, one of the ten largest pumped storage power plants worldwide, is a unique project for Australia, Voith and the world’s climate.
The Fifth Continent has the potential to cover 100 percent of its energy needs from renewable energy sources. Australia intends to achieve the first 50 percent by 2024. How? With pumped storage technology from Voith.
The facts are on the table. In 2018, Australia recognized that something had to be done to make sure the lights wouldn’t suddenly go out all over the country. The problem: on account of the great distances across a continent of just under eight million square kilometers, different energy systems, increasing consumption and retiring coal-fired power plants, there was an impending energy crisis on the horizon. At that time, the share of renewable energies from wind, solar and hydropower stood at only 17 percent of Australian power generation, according to statistics from the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy. Hydropower already made up the largest share of this figure, at 33.0 percent. Half of this amount was generated by the largest hydropower plant in the country, the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. The lion’s share of Australia’s power supplies today is coal-based. There is a permanent risk of an unstable power grid inherent in this mix of energy supplies. It is increasingly difficult to maintain a balance between energy generation and consumption. Pumped storage technology is the solution. After all, it is currently the only long-term, technically proven and economically viable form of energy storage.
In line with the disconcerting analyses, a change in the mindset among the general public and decision makers also occurred, acknowledging that climate change is threatening life on Planet Earth. The thinly populated continent with around 25.3 million inhabitants (as of April 2019, Australian Bureau of Statistics) is the sixth largest country in the world after Russia, Canada, China, the United States and Brazil. But most of all, this country is one of the most affluent in the world. In 2017, Australia ranked third in the United Nations Development Index, specifically due to its huge mineral deposits. On account of the high amount of fossil fuels extracted, the country is virtually independent of imports of such natural resources. There are no nuclear power plants for electricity generation. The snag: the massive share of fossil fuels leads to huge emissions of greenhouse gases and contributes to global warming. In 1997, Australia was the second to last industrial nation to sign the Kyoto Protocol that came into effect in 2005, the precursor to the Paris Agreement. The declared goal is now to cease wasting the country’s own resources, and to use them with more care or find substitutes.
The Paris Agreement (in French: Accord de Paris, in German: Übereinkommen von Paris) is an agreement between the 197 signatory countries to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the objective of climate protection. The Convention was signed on December 12, 2015
Voith has had operations in Australia and New Zealand for decades. There are more than 80 employees working in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne. Voith opened a branch office in Sydney at the beginning of 2018, with the goal of expanding its local presence in the region. The objective of this new subsidiary is to serve local producers and customers quickly and flexibly, with high-quality products and customized services. Having a representative office in the country helps us understand the geographical conditions, to get a deep insight into the hydropower market and its (legal) peculiarities, and to fulfill the clients’ specific needs.
The Future Generation Joint Venture and Voith signed an agreement with Snowy Hydro Ltd. to build the Snowy 2.0 project in April 2019. The plant will be operated by Snowy Hydro Ltd. Equipped with electrical and mechanical power plant components, Snowy 2.0 is going to be one of the ten largest pumped storage power plants in the world.
The gigantic project: the two existing dams in the Snowy Mountains systems with the Tantangara and Talbingo lakes are to be connected to each other by subterranean tunnels and a subterranean power plant with pump and electricity generating units. It should be kept in mind that they are 27 kilometers apart and at different altitudes! The entire power plant is almost one kilometer vertically below the mountain peak. The contract covers the delivery of six reversible Francis pump-turbines. The scope of delivery further includes six motor-generators, the auxiliary systems and the entire power plant automation system. The imponderables that could be experienced, however great the effort put into planning, striving for perfection and the most exacting calculations, will be a major challenge. Voith has already successfully managed complex projects of this kind. But in its specific constellation Snowy 2.0 is unique.
In the meantime, Australia has more than 120 operational hydropower plants with an installed output of just under 8,800 megawatts. The country’s hydropower resources are mainly concentrated in the states of Tasmania, New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria. The Snowy Mountains hydropower plant that covers both NSW and Victoria is Australia’s largest hydropower facility. It consists of 16 large dams and nine power plants with a total output of 4,100 megawatts. As investments in renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, are constantly on the rise, the demand for pumped storage must increase as a necessary balance to these sources. After all, wind and sunshine are to a certain degree unpredictable. There is at the heart of the innovative pumped storage technology a special asynchronous motor-generator. Its rotational speed is not tied to the line frequency and can be varied. This enables the system to react more quickly and flexibly to active and reactive demands from the electricity grid. Furthermore, it offers additional stability in the event of a drop in voltage.
The Australian government is promoting the expansion of pumped storage throughout the country. For instance, Hydro Tasmania has developed – in cooperation with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency – a concept for the new role that Tasmania is to play on the Australian electricity market. Ideas under review include the expansion of existing hydropower plants and the construction of an additional new pumped storage power plant to make the state the “Battery of the Nation”. The country has, however, at least 22,000 locations suitable for new pumped storage power plants. This means that Australia has the potential to become a model country for nationwide use of renewable energy sources. With its experience and its hydropower components, Voith is making an important contribution to this development.
Voith has been offering everything needed for efficient and pioneering use of hydropower. The portfolio covers all components for large and small-scale hydropower plants as well as pumped storage power plants – from generators, turbines, pumps and automation systems to replacement parts, maintenance and training services, as well as digital solutions for the entire life cycle of the facilities. As long ago as 1937, Voith developed the first single-stage pump-turbine that acted both as a turbine for energy generation and – in reverse – as a pump. Today, almost 200 Voith pumpturbines have been installed worldwide with a total output of more than 25,000 megawatts. At our own locations in Asia, Europe, and in North and South America, we manufacture all components for hydropower ourselves. Furthermore, we are conducting research into tomorrow’s means of generating electricity.
The Snowy 2.0 project is the second-largest contract ever received by Voith and a nice example of how perseverance pays off. The tender process took almost two years, a test of patience that will bring benefits for all concerned. Especially for the climate.
Three questions to ...
Lars Meier, a university-qualified engineer specializing in mechanical engineering, Head of Sales at Voith Hydro who spent one year living in Australia with his family over the two-year bidding phase.
What makes this contract so fascinating for you?
Lars Meier: The dimensions of the project are gigantic in every respect; by the time commissioning is completed, hundreds of companies will have been involved, from road construction and mining through to us as hydropower equipment suppliers.
I have always seen pumped storage as being the pinnacle of the hydropower business. I am also thrilled that Australia has the opportunity to meet 100 percent of its energy needs with renewable energy.
For Voith, it was important to maintain market leadership in this field, in which there is fierce competition. Snowy 2.0 is an important reference project. Furthermore, it will create thousands of new jobs at the contractor companies involved – that’s great.
Which of our strengths helped win the project?
Lars Meier: Our technological knowledge, our experience, the expertise. But most of all the fact that we were involved from the very outset and supported the client in the development of the project. We felt that it would be opportune to proactively make contact with the construction companies that would receive the lion’s share of the overall budget in order to integrate our own equipment into the design of their construction work.
At that stage, it became clear to me that individual trips would not be sufficient, I would have to move there. I would have found it very annoying if we had failed to get the contract for that reason. Voith also has all the necessary infrastructure at its branch in Sydney; laptops and smartphones immediately dial into the global Voith network. These were also little pieces of the puzzle leading to success.
Source: Snowy Hydro Ltd., 2019
Source: Snowy Hydro Ltd., 2019
What was the year in Australia like for your family?
Lars Meier: My wife and two daughters joined me in Australia in the second year of tendering. Such a step always contains an element of risk, too. Some things are simply different in an unfamiliar city or don’t work out as quickly, and that is when teenagers tend to get impatient. And homesickness is another challenge parents may have to face. But that is something that only a strong family can handle, it creates even closer bonds. We all considered ourselves lucky that Voith, as my employer, gave us the opportunity to live in Australia. There was fantastic support from those colleagues who had been there longer.
My family was already familiar with living abroad, as I had held a position as chief engineer at Voith in the United States from 2010 to 2015. All of us loved Australia. The food is great, we lived in Sydney’s Olympic Park, around 30 kilometers from the city center, that is fantastic for sightseeing and shopping. My daughters learned how to surf. On Sundays, we liked to hike along the coast and explore the area. At the critical stages of the project, I had to work virtually around the clock, and had to be available on the phone or by e-mail during the day for the Australians and in the evening for my colleagues in Heidenheim.