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A coal mine that supported German industry for nearly half a century is getting revamped as a giant battery that stores excess solar wind and energy.

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Located in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, the coal mine, named Prosper-Haniel, will be turned into a 200 megawatt pumped-storage hydroelectric reservoir. The reservoir will act like a battery, and will be able to power more than 400,00 homes.

The decision to turn the coal mine into a pumped-hydro-storage station will generate new economic activity in a region known for generations for its reliance on fossil fuels for worker’s livelihoods. It will also push renewable energy further into the spotlight — helping to maintain electric capacity regardless of wind and sun conditions.

State governor Hannelore Kraft noted the town of Bottrop’s “sympathetic ear” to sustainable and cost-effective storage during a speech in the state capital, Dusseldorf, earlier this month. People had worked the 600 meter deep mine in Bottrop since 1974, and Kraft prides the transformation for ensuring power remains uninterrupted for the country.

There is even talk that additional mines will be converted similarly once Prosper-Haniel is finished since, looking to double the share of renewables in its power mix to 30% by 2025, the state needs more industrial-scale storage.

North-Rhine Westphalia generates a third of the nation’s power, of which aging coal plants remain the most used. However, Europe’s energy transition has intensified, making the desire for bigger and better storage a pressing issue.

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Researchers from a number of German universities have teamed up to work alongside private engineering companies and the government on the project. They believe the pit’s elevation will make way for hydroelectric storage. If the water can flow downwards, it will power turbines and produce electricity, and then water will be pumped back up again during periods of low demand.

“In regions such as the Rhineland or the Ruhr area, the lack of relief in the landscape does not provide the necessary height differences [for hydroelectric power],” the project’s website explains. The mine will close in 2018, and then work on the new project will begin.

Germany’s most populous state, North-Rhine Westphalia makes up a fifth of the nation’s economic output and is home to utilities RWE AG, EON SE, Steag GmbH, Uniper SE and Innogy SE that exemplify its traditional connections to coal and power generation.

Low wholesale power prices at some of Germany’s oldest coal plants owned by the utilities, however, have led to their closure. In fact, plans have already been made to shut down 27 of the older coal- and gas-fired generators with a combined capacity of 6.6 gigawatts, which is enough power for 13 million average homes.

The project will allow for 1 million cubic meters of water to plunge as far down as 1,200 meters when wind and solar power won’t suffice, turning the turbines at the foot of the colliery’s 16-miles of horizontal shafts.


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