Giant Battery on Lake Michigan, and it’s Not from Elon Musk

May 7, 2019


LUDINGTON, Mich. — Work to build the Ludington Pumped Storage plant started 50 years ago this June. However, a license allowing Consumers Energy and DTE to operate the facility expires on June 30.
The unique hydroelectric plant, at one time, was the largest of its kind in the world. It’s now the fourth largest. 
Some drivers rushing past the massive berm on the west side of US-31, just south of Ludington likely don’t know it’s a man-made reservoir capable of holding up to 27-billion gallons of Lake Michigan.In 1959, Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison began designing the hydroelectric plant. Construction started a decade later and the plant began commercial operation in 1973.
“This is unique site. It’s different; there aren’t a lot of them around,” Zatloukal said.
When power costs are low, billions of gallons of Lake Michigan are pumped uphill into the reservoir. The water is stored there until power is a higher cost. It’s then the water is released and allowed to travel downhill, spinning six turbines to create electricity.

Meanwhile, what’s happened since I made this video, new studies show many, many more opportunities for pumped storage than previously imagined, around the world.

Science Alert:

We just got some massive news in the ongoing drive to switch to renewable energy: scientists have identified 530,000 sites worldwide suitable for pumped-hydro energy storage, capable of storing more than enough energy to power the entire planet.

Pumped-hydro is one of the best technologies we have for storing intermittent renewable energy, such as solar power, which means these sites could act as giant batteries, helping to support cheap, fully renewable power grids.

Added together, these hundreds of thousands of sites have the potential to store around 22 million Gigawatt-hours (GWh) of energy. It’s more than enough to get the entire planet running on renewables, which is where we want to get to.

As of now the sites have only been identified by an algorithm, so further on-the-ground research needs to be done. But it was previously assumed there were only limited suitable sites around the world, and that we wouldn’t be able to store enough renewable energy for high-demand times – which this study shows isn’t the case at all.

“Only a small fraction of the 530,000 potential sites we’ve identified would be needed to support a 100 percent renewable global electricity system,” says one of the researchers involved in the survey, Matthew Stocks from the Australian National University (ANU).

“We identified so many potential sites that much less than the best 1 percent will be required. The perception has been there are limited sites for pumped hydro around the world, but we have found hundreds of thousands.”

The sites identified would rely mainly on solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power to pump water uphill when the renewables are plentiful. When energy is needed, the water will be released and pulled down by gravity to drive turbines and generate electricity. No fossil fuels are released in this process.

8 Responses to “Giant Battery on Lake Michigan, and it’s Not from Elon Musk”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Some drivers rushing past the massive berm on the west side of US-31, just south of Ludington likely don’t know it’s a man-made reservoir capable of holding up to 27-billion gallons of Lake Michigan.

    This triggers my Neurosis #28: I’d rather live under wind turbines or near nukes than by an embankment dam.

  2. redskylite Says:

    Interestingly in today’s “Renew Economy”, Giles Parkinson contributes an article looking at Big Batteries and Pumped Hydroelectric, displacing coal use in energy production. Includes Australian pumped hydro station “Tumut-3″ (1800MW, just below Ludington’s 1872MW).

    ” Big batteries displace coal, and lower costs in frequency markets”

    • redskylite Says:

      Fingers crossed – looks like Climate Change might be a weighty factor the politicians (hoping to form the 46th Parliament of Australia) take note of in the impeding federal election. (18th May).

      “Lowy poll showing two-thirds of people say global warming is serious problem comes as shock UN report finds 1 million species at risk of extinction.”

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        Climate is a large factor in the election. The green (imprecise term) trumpet it, which is neither here nor there. The mainstream media agrees, and considering their right wing leanings, that is significant. Looking hopeful.
        To the voters of OZ, a technique you may or not be aware of.
        Give your first preference to the climate candidate of your choice. HE will not win, but it will be counted and definitely be noticed. Give your second preference to the major party of your choice, whom may win depending on the seat. Your vote WILL be counted towards the major party of your choice.
        Good luck and spread the word.

    • redskylite Says:

      “Australia is acutely vulnerable to climate change, just as it is also a culprit. The continent has warmed faster than the global average; its cherished Great Barrier Reef has been devastated by marine heat waves; and heat and drought this year took a bite out of the country’s economy, according to a top official of the country’s central bank. At the same time, central to its prosperity is the extraction of the dirtiest fossil fuel: Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal for power generation. ”

  3. Very interesting. Never though about that you can make money with large scale storing of energy. This may be more cost efficient than using large scale batteries.

  4. rsmurf Says:

    Sometimes the simplest option is the best!

  5. Canman Says:

    It’s amazing that a long post on this facility can be written, without mentioning that its purpose was for load leveling the output of nuclear plants, which is ultimately, probably its best use. from the Wikipedia entree:

    This process was designed to level the load of nearby nuclear power plants on the grid. It also replaces the need to build natural gas peak power plants used only during high demand. The Ludington Pumped Storage plant is connected to six 345-kV Transmission lines, all owned and maintained by METC, a subsidiary of ITC Holdings.

    The project was given the 1973 award for “Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement” by the American Society of Civil Engineers. [emphasis mine]

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