People have been harnessing the power of water to do work for millennia. In the third century BCE, the Greek engineer Philo Mechanicus is believed to have designed the first horizontal water wheel, the precursor of the hydropower turbines we have been using to generate electricity for more than a century.
The original idea might be ancient, but that doesn’t mean its latest incarnations cannot help with urgent present-day tasks like the energy transition and efficient power distribution.
The latest hydropower technology developed by GE engineers enables power companies to build giant batteries to store renewable energy — so-called pumped storage. And now a utility on the West Coast said it will use GE technology to generate electricity with water more efficiently, help maintain grid stability, improve power transmission, enable energy trading and help facilitate the transition to more renewables.
All of these benefits are part of a new project between GE Renewable Energy and Avista Utilities, an energy company serving four northwestern states in the U.S. GE engineers will modernize four generator units at the Long Lake Hydropower Plant on the Spokane River in Washington state. When the work is done, the facility — which opened in 1915 — will have an installed capacity exceeding 100 megawatts. This amount of energy is sufficient to meet the demand for electricity of approximately 80,000 U.S. homes.
But there’s more. The increase in the plant’s efficiency and performance will also help Avista meet the growing needs of the energy imbalance market (EIM) to better serve its customers.
The EIM is a real-time wholesale energy trading market that enables participants anywhere in the western United States to buy and sell energy when needed, helping maintain grid reliability by making excess renewable energy available to participating utilities at low cost rather than turning the generating units off.
“Helping our customers address the increased demands for flexibility is critical in today’s energy markets. It is our close relationship with Avista Utilities that enables us to clearly understand their needs and work side by side in order to provide a customized solution and execution planning that best meets their needs,” said Pascal Radue, president and CEO of GE Renewable Energy’s Hydro Solutions unit.
The scope of the project includes the complete renewal and supply of the turbine stators, poles, fans and other features. The first modernized Long Lake unit is scheduled to go into operation at the end of 2024, and the last one in 2029.
Top image: The Long Lake Hydropower Plant on the Spokane River in Washington state. Image credit: Avista Utilities.