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NSW Climate and Energy Action

Hydro energy

Hydro energy and its uses

Hydro energy is the most established renewable energy technology in NSW and can provide rapid power on demand.

Hydro energy uses the force of moving water to create electricity.

It’s been harnessed for several centuries to drive water wheels and mills for agricultural and industrial purposes. In the late 19th century, it began to be used for electricity generation. There are three main hydro-electric energy technologies:

  1. Storage systems: water is stored in a dam or reservoir and released to drive turbines and generate electricity.
  2. Pumped storage systems: water is pumped to a higher storage reservoir and later released to provide dispatchable, on-demand energy storage for large-scale systems over days, weeks or even seasons.
  3. Run-of-river systems: the natural flow of rivers is used to produce electricity, usually for smaller facilities, with less impact on the environment than a dammed system. 

Hydro resources in NSW

NSW has generated hydro energy for more than 75 years. In addition to existing large- and small-scale power stations, we have extensive river systems – some already with small dams or weirs – that offer potential sources for more small-scale hydro-electric facilities. Our eastern mountain ranges have abundant rainfall and their steep slopes make it easy for the water to run down. Water or sewage treatment plants and water supply pipelines could also be harnessed for small-scale hydro systems.

Tumut 3 Power Station, the largest in the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme

How NSW uses hydro energy

Snowy Mountains Scheme

Built between 1949 and 1974, the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme is Australia’s largest hydro-electric scheme.

The role of small-scale hydro

A small-scale hydro scheme is one that generates electrical power of between 100kW (kilo-watts) and 1MW (mega-watts), feeding this generated power directly into the grid or as part of a large stand-alone scheme powering households.

Small-scale hydro-electric generation accounted for 1% of total electricity generated in NSW (including ACT) in 2017. Small-scale hydro-electric facilities have been installed in wastewater treatment plants and water transfer pipelines across the state.

The future of hydro energy in NSW

The government is working to support the next generation of pumped hydro projects by inviting energy and storage proposals that make use of the state’s water infrastructure to support a more secure, affordable and reliable energy mix.