Set high amongst Australia’s Southern Alps is one of the civil engineering wonders of the modern world – and SMEC’s namesake project.
Begun in October 1949, the Scheme took 25 years to build and upon completion, consisted of seven power stations, 16 major dams, 145 kilometres of inter-connected tunnels, 80 kilometers of aqueducts and 2,000 kilometers of road.
While the primary purpose of the Scheme was to provide electricity to the National Electricity Grid, the project also offsets the disastrous effects of droughts and supports agricultural production, town water supply and irrigation. Today, the Scheme provides approximately 32% of all renewable energy to the eastern mainland grid of Australia. It was recognised as a Defining Moment in Australian History in March 2017.
An estimated 100,000 people from more than 30 countries worked together in extreme conditions to build one of the greatest engineering projects ever undertaken. Around 65% of these were migrants, known as New Australians, who had travelled across the world to seek a new life after the turmoil of World War II. Their resilient and innovative spirit forms the heart of SMEC, an organisation that has built its name and history around the achievements of these early pioneers, and continues to celebrate a diverse, global workforce.
“The Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric Scheme forms the backbone and history of our organisation and continues to inspire technical excellence and an innovative and determined approach to exceptional service delivery.” Hari Poologasundram, CEO, SMEC & CEO International, Surbana Jurong Group. “The SMEC Spirit’ is evident in our people, values and culture and captures who we are and what we aim to deliver for our communities.”
Not many people would associate one of the world’s most significant pumped hydro projects with one of Australia's first computers
Australia’s first transistorised computer
“Snowcom” was Australia’s first transistorised computer and one of the first dozen or so computers in the world. It was built by the University of Sydney to use for engineering and design calculations. Delivered to the project in 1960, Snowcom’s design was based around a drum memory, which had a memory equivalent to 8000 bytes and the capacity to hold 2048 words without a disc. The computer played a significant role in delivering the project on time and within budget through advanced commercial engineering.
Drilling tunnels and building power stations and dams through extreme mountain ranges requires a unique level of ingenuity and collaboration. A standout example of this was the design and development of a technique called rockbolting. Rather than utilising an individual rockbolt to pin a piece of rock, the team found that they could create a structural arch by placing rockbolts in an interactive pattern across the roof of the tunnel or power station. This proved to be a far safer and cheaper alternative to concrete lining for supporting rock in tunnel walls.
Introduction of seatbelts
Likewise, managing the risk of operating vehicles through mountainous conditions saw the implementation of another ‘Australian-first’. A decade before the rest of Australia, the wearing of seatbelts was made compulsory in all project vehicles to help protect workers from serious injuries and casualties.
Snowy 2.0 – a ‘twice-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity
In May 2017, SMEC was engaged to conduct the feasibility study, subsequent reference design and tender assessment for the first expansion of the Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric Scheme since its completion in 1974 – which came to be known as ‘Snowy 2.0’.
Snowy 2.0 will be the second largest pumped hydro project in the world, increasing generation capacity by 2000 MW and providing 175 hours of energy storage.
Many of the 5,000 people expected to work on Snowy 2.0 will be contributing to the iconic scheme for the first time, but some families, such as the Von Der Burgs, are continuing a multi-generational legacy.
Brianna Von Der Burg completed her Business Administration traineeship with Snowy Hydro in Cooma, where her father had joined SMEC in 1992. “I helped coordinate several community engagement projects as well as the establishment of the Cooma University Centre,” says Brianna. “I joined SMEC in 2016 in the Canberra office. One of the projects I was most excited to work on is Snowy 2.0. It’s been really interesting working alongside people who worked with my father over 20 years ago.”
A pumped-hydro expansion, Snowy 2.0 will supercharge existing generation and large-scale storage capabilities and help to address power shortages and stabilise electricity supply in the future. It is expected to power the equivalent of half a million homes.
In February 2019, Snowy 2.0 was officially approved with an investment of up to AUD 1.38 billion from the Australian Federal Government. Snowy 2.0 will help secure a reliable energy supply, reduce emissions and cut costs for Australian families and businesses.