Food for thought: Harnessing the power of Niagara Falls

Robert Faulkner gave a paper, back in 2009, discussing the possibility to use the Niagara area between Lakes Erie and Ontario as a source for a pumped storage system, one with quite a few benefits.

The proposed Isthmus of Niagara project (“Niagara Pumped Storage”) does not require that any dry land be flooded (except for minor canal surface area) to implement, and so would arguably have much less environmental impact than a comparable project based on new reservoirs. Niagara pumped storage is in essence an energy storage scheme that is capable of providing enough storage capacity to harmonize the available power from wind, tidal, and solar sources with power demand in a large portion of the US and Canada.

The average 99.4 meter difference of elevation between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario combined with their large surface area would provide 1300 gigawatt-hours of stored energy (at 70% overall efficiency) if the level in Lake Ontario is allowed to vary by 30 cm during a charge/discharge cycle (less than the typical seasonal variation of Lake Ontario’s level, which is about 45 cm).  I defined project characteristics for a 10 GW pumped storage facility. Although it would be a massive engineering project to realize the storage potential of these lakes, the benefits for not having to purchase the land, create the reservoirs, and flood dry land for the pumped storage project are very large advantages of the scheme. The proposed facility would be uniquely able to deal with peak demand or low wind periods lasting for more than a week.

The problem with such an undertaking is that it requires that there be a large scale, or “supergrid,” for the pumped storage to connect to. While it could be beneficial for large portions of the US and Canada, the investment is not feasible due to the bureaucratic processes required to implement it. Between the implementation of a grid of the size required and the political negotiations required to utilize such a system, we may not see movement on this until there is a more immediate push for more renewable energy sources and energy storage options.

To read more about Niagara Pumped Storage, head over to