115: You call that a battery? Pumped Hydro Storage

Matt and Sean discuss how “old reliable” might be the best reliable … we’re talking about how pumped hydro storage is the biggest energy storage system in the world.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “The World’s Largest Battery Isn’t What You Think”: https://youtu.be/qBW3KpXp1FM?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7UWp64ZlOKUPNXePMTdU4d

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On Today’s episode of still to be determined. We’re going to talk about whether or not we ought to be out chasing waterfalls hey everybody as usual I’m Sean Farrell I’m a writer I write some sci-fi I write some books for kids and I’m generally inquisitive about technology. And luckily for me I have a brother named Matt Farrell Matt how you doing I’m doing well you all should know that Matt is the originator of undecided with Matt Ferrell coincidental name there I mean lucky that you landed on a name for your show.
I’m good how you doing.
Yes, the odds of that are really, it’s shocking that Youtube shut me down for impersonation. But you know.
And included your own name. That’s I’m amazed. It was available. That’s right that did happen just goes to show you what happens when you try and use somebody’s name. Yes, and of course it’s from Matt’s channel
Yes, even if it’s your own.
That we start all of our discussions and today we’re going to be talking about Matt’s most recent episode which is the world’s largest battery isn’t what you think this episode aired on April Nineteenth 2022 and it was an intriguing title for the episode because. Immediately I was just like have I ever even thought about a big battery. How big a battery can I imagine where do I think it might be.
Did you see did you see in the comments. How many people were answering it before they watched most people who were guessing before they watch got it right? They were like I’m gonna guess water now I’m gonna go watch thought that was really funny. So many people were guessing before they watched.
No I did not what were some of the answers that they were giving.
That is good. Yeah, maybe you should build that into future videos where at the end of a video you pose a question for the next one and see about getting some ah getting some guesses into the comments that way some of the comments that did catch my I were these like. 1 from Luke who wrote Matt your powerfully presented presentation puns pack a pretty impressive punch as much as such improving. You’re persistently freezing presentation is practically impossible your persona and presence are a plus and you’re persistencely. You’re persistently on point props. Applause Luke you nailed it. Good job. Yes, so what I did notice in the comments were a lot of people and and as you mentioned I didn’t get to this point but you did bring it out.
Ah I gotta tip my hat to that one. That’s awesome.
The battery that you’re talking about is water and much of the technology that was discussed was around effectively gravity batteries like the idea of taking the water to a different location and letting the natural physics behind the water wanting to redistribute. In some cases. It was air pressure utilizing the water in other cases. It was literally just water being taken to a higher point and then letting it drain back down through a hydroelectric generator. Yeah so a lot of the discussion.
It’s essentially a mechanical battery. That’s basically what it is yeah.
Revolved around and I think that this speaks to the astuteness of your audience. Okay, the battery is all well and good. But what about other environmental concerns around the battery like evaporation. How do you manage a system which is built around. Water which is largely most of the models that you talked about were open air reservoirs. How do you manage not losing some of your battery efficiency to simple environmental impacts like evaporation or in some cases drought. How would you.
The problem is is you kind of don’t it’s like you are you are beholden to that like ah, it’s part of the reason I was fascinated by the ones that is being built over in the Middle East because they’re building in a desert but they’re clearly building it near the ocean. So there’s ah, there’s a water source not too far away.
Mitigate that you kind of don’t yeah.
So It makes sense how they’re going to pull it off because they’re basically using Salt water instead of you know rivers and and freshwater lakes. But if you’re if you’re building it with lakes Inland and things like that and you have evaporation Problems. You’re going to have a storage problem where a lot of these. Um, open loop systems. They’re fed by Rivers and things like that that mitigates the the natural evaporation loss that you’re going to have because it’s constantly refilling itself. But if you have a drought scenario you’re going to have an energy storage problem. It’s it’s unavoidable. That’s a huge downside.
Yeah, yeah.
As climate change starts to push forward and the environment’s changing. You could have a situation where your your pumped hydro storage works great today but 20 years from now. It could be a problem because you’re in a major drought area.
A couple of the things that occurred to me as I was thinking about this. There were a couple of solutions proposed in the comments but 1 of the things that occurred to me just now one of the models you talked about was. Ah, company that was improving efficiency because they were using a liquid that was actually heavier than water that would be a closed system I imagine so.
Yes, they’re using something that they they call it r nineteen. It’s a fluid that’s two and a half times denser than water and some people in the comments were mistaken as to what that r nineteen is it’s not. It’s completely environmentally safe. It’s just basically minerals.
Um, it’s strawberry Jello if I remember correctly right? Yeah, this battery tastes so good.
It’s delicious. but this was I think the uk there’s a company here actually probably an hour drive from where I am they’re here. Um, they have a test facility I think it’s in Waltam I think is where it is um in Massachusetts it’s a company called fluid. Have a very similar thing. It’s it’s ah, a liquid that’s much denser than water and so that you need less of it and you basically build like a tower platform and you basically are pumping this thick liquid up and letting it drop and it’s the mechanics of the system. It’s the same as a pumped hydro battery but smaller scale because you’re using a thicker denser liquid. And it’s closed. It’s a closed loop so you don’t have to worry about evaporation smaller smaller footprint but you still get this immense energy storage capability.
Another thing that was mentioned in the comments was doing something that wouldn’t necessarily be a closed system but would help mitigate evaporation. And correct me if I’m wrong. Have you ever talked about floating solar panels before.
Um, no, but I’ve wanted to for the longest time because I’m fascinated by them because they’re really trippy just like a whole Lake Lake covered with solar panels. That’s it’s really neat.
Um, yeah, yeah, yeah, because there was there was one of the commenters said ah for that reservoir system you might want to cover that with solar panels because then the solar panels would rise and fall with the water. Obviously. But then you’d also gain the advantage of some solar panel generation which would seem to fit in with the model that was being used in California where they have that solar panel farm below the location of the reservoir so that it’s helping. Produce some of the energy that’s used for the pumping mechanism and it seemed to me like the floating solar panel model might actually be a good idea. There was another thing that I remember

There was a Youtube video I watched years ago which was about helping alleviate evaporation in reservoirs by floating millions of black balls on the surface of the water and I wondered.
Black balls I was gonna bring that up.
Has there been any development in that regard using something like that in this kind of technology where you would have your reservoir covered with something like that to help mitigate the evaporation.
Yeah, that video you’re talking about is from the channel of Veritasium. It’s a great video. Um I haven’t seen any reports of them using that on Pumped Hydro storage facilities to help with evaporation but it could work it absolutely could work because that video demonstrates how this stuff actually does work and I’ve also Seen. Anecdotal Reports I haven’t found any like scientific research on it. But like there’s anecdotal reports of floating solar panels actually can help with um water temperature maintaining water temperature and helping with evaporation so floating solar platforms while not as good as those black balls could theoretically have a similar impact but I. Like I said I’m I’m still looking into this for myself because I haven’t found any like detailed reports of those systems being used for that purpose to understand if it actually does have the impact we think it does.
Um, yeah.
It also seems to me like again if memory serves you have talked in previous videos about a hotter So solar panel is not a better solar panel and it seems to me like having floating solar Panels. If They’re not actually touching the water close to the water. The water is going to be helping to keep the solar Panels Cooler. So The efficiency there is probably higher.
It helps.
Yes, yeah, the floating solar panels have a better efficiency because their heat is controlled just because of being so close to the water. It’s similar to putting solar panels over a farm agrovoltaics same benefit the the ground and the wildlife helps to keep the panels cooler. Which helps to improve their efficiency. So there’s kind of like this symbiotic relationship by doing that so it could be just like evoltaics. It could be kind of a win-win-win scenario by floating solar on top of a pumped hydros power plant so that you’re reducing evaporation improving the effectiveness of the solar panels themselves and it’s kind of like everybody’s kind of benefiting everybody else and you’re getting. Energy generation and storage all kind of a 1 gigantic facility. Yeah.
Um, yeah I was also struck by the forward thinking of 1 of the companies the one in California which is reusing old iron mines and i.
Something about that really made me happy. It was like like there was the image that was shown at the time I don’t know that the image that you used in the video was an act one of the actual mines that’s being utilized but it was an extracted area that was clearly.
Terraces going down toward a center Point. So It looked like almost an inverted aztec pyramid in the ground and at that point in the video you revealed this company is reusing these abandoned iron mines and part of me was actually. Felt a sense of Relief. Oh like oh thank goodness like it’s reusing something that is just a scar in the Earth It is reusing something that instead of replicating it using something that already exists in such a smart way and. Instead of impacting an environment that is not yet impacted you go where the impact is already felt like this used to be an iron mine. The surrounding area has already been I’m sure drastically impacted by the mining that took place.
Is this.
Oh yeah.
So rather than go and recreate that by digging a new pit somewhere else reusing that and saying like let’s make a good thing out of this wound seemed to me like oh I felt such a strange like elation the idea like that’s great I Loved that Idea. Um. And I wondered is that one company doing this or do you know of any other companies they’re doing similar things finding ways of repurposing existing things.
It’s It’s a very popular thing to do because it reduces the um the opex expenses to to actually install a vacili like this you drastically reduce your costs if it’s like hey we don’t have to dig a hole hole’s already there. We just got to fill it with water and put our stuff on.
Um, yeah.
There’s a company called um, it’s not a Hydro So Ah company. It’s graviricity. Um, they basically have a system where they can go into like an abandoned coal mine like the shafts that are dug deep into the earth and they literally just put these gigantic weights. They’ve designed above the shaft and then you just lower it and raise it. In the Shaft. It’s like that’s Ingenious. It’s like you don’t have to dig dig exactly. They’re basically installing a gigantic elevator that’s used to store the energy. It’s very similar to what we’re talking about here. But it’s using water versus they’re using weights. But it’s this End. It’s the same principle So This is a very.
Um, almost like installing an elevator.
Popular approach to reuse as you put the scars of our industrialization and putting them to use as energy storage. It’s a very clever unique way to repurpose.
Um, yeah.
Yeah, and especially from the perspective of the safety of those locations the hazards involved in abandoned mines are are real and if you turn it into a place where it is actually being utilized then you have people on hand who are keeping an eye on it and keeping it. From being accidentally stumbled across by you know, somebody who’s just on a hike suddenly finding what they don’t know is a three hundred foot pit because being overgrown by Bushes and and and hidden um, so that kind of of safety measure is also. Positive that comes out of this one of the biggest things that came out of your video was this is technology that has been around for centuries. This is yeah the idea of using water using. Ah. The natural lay of the land to help create energy to use for human endeavor whether it’s a windmill you know turning wheat into flour or whether it’s a water wheel that is helping to generate electricity. This idea is very very old and. You point out there is in something that is this old There’s only so much more that you can squeeze out of it I think that you touch on that very clearly when you talked about the hydrodynamics of the r nineteen.
This is.
This is not water. This is a way that they’ve improved efficiency by using something that’s 2.3 times as dense as water you can improve your efficiency by 2.3 times but there’s only so many turns of that screw that you can get before it just won’t turn anymore.
And I’m curious if you were to to grade this on a scale of like 1 to 101 being somebody walking along and saying like I wonder if I could do anything with water and 100 being like we are getting max efficiency from this where would you put the pin.
This is.
For this technology and where would you put the pins for some other technologies that we have.
You mean like 10 being it’s tapped out. We’ve done it as best we can and like one has still got a huge room for improvement I would say pumped hydro is probably like a 9 It’s not. It’s like you could potentially make better turbines that are more efficient at converting that mechanical energy into you know.
Um, yeah, yeah.
Um, right.
And mechanics into energy. Ah so there’s still probably some little things you can eke out and squeak out and make a little bit better, but it’s like it’s diminishing returns where something like lithium ion batteries feel like they’re at a 5 You know what? I mean like there’s.
There’s more room for improvement. There’s new chemistries that are looking super promising solid state batteries which still look. It’s taken forever to get here but they look very promising that there’s a recent breakthrough that was an accident about Lithium sulfur batteries that look astonishing and we they stumbled upon it by accident I’m thinking about doing a video on that. So it’s.
Um, bright.
There’s like really cool stuff that can happen with chemical batteries that leaves a huge like there’s a a huge potential still there to to dial that up and drop the costs and make it more effective and more efficient. Um, but even though there’s those ones of 5 and ones of 9 in my mind.
It still does not say oh we shouldn’t be doing investing in hydro because it’s it’s a 9 it’s already done Let’s forget that one let’s look at the new What’s the newest latest best it’s like from an investment point of view I can understand focusing on that but from a practical we need as much energy storage as we can today. We should be. This is a proven technology that’s very cost effective and if you have if you live in a geography where these kind of systems make sense. We should be tapping into this wherever we can because we need as much cost effectiveive energy storage as we can get if we want solar and wind and renewable energy to become the future of our grids.
Because we have to store that intermittent energy somewhere. Yeah.
Yeah, and it really does seem I mean as you as you say this is not going to be set up in certain parts of Nebraska this is like you’re not going to be unless you have a some kind of mind shaft. It’s.
Unlikely, that somebody’s going to say like let’s set one of these up there but there are absolutely parts of the mountain regions that where the dropoff as you point out, you needed to be a certain grade and you go to certain parts of the us and in Canada. Where the rocky mountains or in other parts of the world which have even steeper grades than what we see here in the the rocky mountains there are certainly areas where this would be a solution to power needs simply because the geography is right I am curious about the lithium sulfur.
Hope you do do a video on that that sounds fascinating but I’m just curious if you can give us a small peek into was the accident that led to its creation similar to the accident that led to the creation of the peanut butter cup.
You mean 2 guys walking down separate hallways and they just bumped into each other and like you got your lithium in my suur you got your sulfur in my lithium.
Yeah, 1 guy’s eating a big thing a suur and he’s just like I love this sulfur and coming the other direction is a lady on a bike and she’s got lithium and she’s like I can’t wait to get home and uses this lithium and then boom wait a minute It’s a battery. So to our listeners. What do you think about these approaches to power generation. Would you appreciate seeing this kind of thing in your neighborhood where you would see potentially some sort of stable power generation that doesn’t have a huge. Growth future or would you say well it’s been proven. It works. Let’s go with this. Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget if you’d like to support the show. You can leave a review on Blank Podcasts Blank Podcasts or blank podcasts. You know where you got this podcast. Apple Google Spotify wherever go back to that place and leave a review or if you’re here on Youtube you can of course like the video and scroll down and leave a comment there and if you want to more directly support us. You can go to still tbd fm and you can click on the become a supporter button. Which allows you to throw coins at our heads. Don’t forget on Youtube you can also click the join button there and become a member and it’s a great way to support us all of that really does help the show. Thank you so much for listening or watching and we’ll talk to you next time.

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