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Estonia’s Eesti Energia launches pre-FEED study for pumped hydroelectric power plant

Last week, the Estonian energy company, Eesti Energia, signed an agreement with an Estonian engineering firm, Steiger, to start the pre-FEED study of its planned pumped-storage hydroelectric power plant (PSH) with the purpose of determining the exact location for the necessary facilities and specifying the investment cost.

The pumped-storage hydroelectric power plant planned for the industrial area of Estonia Mine is a large-scale circular economy project, located in the northeastern county of Ida-Virumaa. As stated in a press release by Eesti Energia, the project’s construction “takes advantage” of mine tailings and closed mining tunnels created during the country’s oil shale mining. The plant will also act as a “powerful storage unit”, helping to ensure energy security and stability of the power network. It is expected to start operations in 2026.

“Ensuring Estonia’s energy security and energy independence with our own assets is more important than ever before. In view of the connection to the continental European electricity system planned for 2026 at the latest, it is extremely important that the necessary energy markets and production or storage assets be created in the Baltic States to ensure the security of supply as greenly and cheaply as possible,” said Mr Aleksandrov. “International interest toward our project is great because it is a unique project. We will carry out comprehensive and versatile studies over the next year in order to provide certainty that our solution will work.”

The analysis of the technical solution, which is planned to be completed in the spring, will be followed by a preliminary design with the necessary studies. These works should be completed by the end of 2023 with the investment decision expected for the first half of 2024.

“The pumped hydroelectric power plant project is a good example of how to think ‘outside the box’. The project plans to reuse the infrastructure of an old oil shale mine, waste rock generated in the mining industry, and as a result to contribute to the security of supply of Estonian energy,” said Project Geologist from Steiger, Hardi Aosaar. “Besides a very interesting engineering-technical challenge, the project will be a good opportunity for us to cooperate with our German partner Fichtner. We have gathered top-level Estonian construction geology and mining engineering competencies to help us. We believe that our team is the best one in the world for solving such unique tasks, and we can boost the development of Eesti Energia’s hydropower storage with our advice and assistance.”

As mentioned, the power plant, with a capacity of up to 225 MW, will act as a large-scale storage unit. Its upper reservoir will be built on a waste rock structure, with the closed mine being used as the lower reservoir. When there is a lack of electricity in the energy system, water is passed from the upper reservoir through pipes to an electric turbine that converts energy from flowing water into electrical energy, after which the water enters the lower reservoir. At times when electricity is cheap, the water is pumped back up for the process to be repeated when needed.

In addition, the height between the upper and lower water reservoirs (pressure height of the facility) is increased by reusing waste rock from the enrichment process of rock mass from oil shale mining.

The planned storage unit concept can be exported to other countries. The “target group” includes countries whose land relief is not suitable for a classic pumped storage hydropower plant (or the environmental effects of a plant in natural conditions are too great) and where there are closed or closing mines.

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