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Underpinning Australia’s transition to a renewable energy future, Snowy 2.0 is on its way

What is the Snowy 2.0?

The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme is a hydroelectricity and irrigation complex in south-west Australia which began construction in 1949. The scheme consists of 16 major dams, nine power stations, two pumping stations and approximately 225 km of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts which have since generated energy 

The Snowy 2.0 project involves the linking of two existing dams – the Tantangara and Talbingo – through 27 km of tunnels in addition to building a new underground power station.

The project will allow for water to be pumped to an upper dam where there is a surplus of renewable energy production and where the demand for energy is low. Following this, water will then be released back to the lower dam in order to generate energy when demand is high. 

Ideally, this will aid in ensuring electricity security for the region in the hopes that an energy crisis similar to the one plaguing Australia over the May to June 2022 period does not occur again. The Snowy 2.0 project will provide the opportunity for flexible, on-demand power while recycling the water in a closed loop and maximise the efficiency of renewables by using excess solar and wind energy to pump water to the higher dam. 

First power is anticipated to be generated from Snowy 2.0 in 2025. Following this, progressive commissioning of its six generating units will be undertaken. 

The hope is that Snowy 2.0 will provide 2000 megawatts of dispatchable, on-demand generating capacity in addition to 350,000 megawatt hours of large-scale storage to the National Electricity Market (NEM). 

To put it simply; this is enough energy storage to power a total of three million homes for an entire week.

Snowy 2.0 will further benefit the Australian economy in other ways – creating significant training and development opportunities for the nation’s workforce. It’s estimated that the project will generate around 4,000 direct jobs in the Snowy Mountains region across the lifespan of the project. However, this doesn’t begin to count the thousands of job opportunities that will arise in service and supply chain roles thanks to the project.

The journey so far: a look at the progress made on Snowy 2.0

Since the Snowy 2.0 project was announced in 2017, works toward supercharging the Snowy Scheme’s role as the battery of the NEM has progressed steadily. 

That same year, geotechnical investigations were undertaken to collect data on the various rock types throughout the proposed Snowy 2.0 area. The goal was for geologists to develop an understanding of the geological and hydrogeological conditions in the area which was a key component to developing a solid and final design for the Snowy 2.0 underground tunnels and power station.

Following the release of feasibility study, which confirmed the project was both technically and financially feasible, the Snowy Hydro board approved a final investment decision to proceed with the Snowy 2.0 project in 2018. 

In February of 2019, the NSW government granted approval for the Snowy 2.0 exploratory works to be undertaken. The approval had followed a rigorous planning and environmental planning assessment process to ensure no undue damaged was caused to the surrounding wildlife and ecosystem. 

Most notably, 2019 saw the partnership between Webuild, Clough and Lane known as the Future Generation joint venture, be appointed by Snowy Hydro to build Snowy 2.0.

Subsequently 2020, significant progress was made on the project with infrastructure such as access roads and permanent bridges constructed to ensure safe access. Likewise, the construction of the Snowy 2.0 concrete segment factory located at Polo Flat in Cooma was completed. 

Planning and environmental approvals were received for main works on Snowy 2.0 from the NSW and federal governments in 2020. The approvals officially allowed for construction to begin on the project’s underground power station, waterways and access tunnels and was a monumental turning point for the momentum of the project. 

Snowy 2.0’s first tunnel boring machine (TBM) was able to get its start in 2021 as a result of the approvals. Named after an integral Snowy Scheme ambassador, the Lady Eileen Hudson TBM was tasked with excavating the 2.6 km main access tunnel down to the underground power station cavern. 

The TBM was a whopping 137 m long and is 11 m in diameter; to put that in perspective – the Lady Eileen Hudson was as tall as a three-storey building.

The Polo Flat segment factory was also preparing to get to work in 2021, warming up to begins its sizable task of producing more than 130,000 seven-tonne concrete segments. The segments will be used to line the tunnels of the Snowy 2.0.

As of June 2022, the Tantangara Intake is well underway. Approximately 85,000 cubic meters of material has been excavated from a total of 270 thousand cubic meters – this is the equivalent of 35 olympic-sized swimming pools of earth. Once completed the intake excavation will sit at around 50 m deep.

Progress across the Snowy 2.0 is continuing to power ahead across the project, with first power projected in 2025 and the project to conclude in 2026.

Snowy 2.0 bringing more renewables into the system

Snowy 2.0 is a win-win project that will assist Australia in meeting its global commitments on climate change. It is good for renewables, will generate more power, lower electricity prices, and provide jobs and opportunities in regional Australia.

This article featured in the August edition of Trenchless Australasia. 

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