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Hydrogen from solar power

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Rich Dzikowski's picture
CTO DESERTSOLAR UG

Desert.Solar develops innovative and efficient CPV systems especially for desert areas, which offer price and technological advantages over conventional PV.

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  • Oct 27, 2020 6:00 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-10 - Distributed Energy Resources, click here for more

The International Energy Agency in Paris in its World Energy Outlook 2010 has listed the following forecasts up to the year 2035:

“Globally, coal remains the leading source of electricity generation in 2035, although its share of electricity generation declines from 41% now to 32%. A big increase in the non-OECD coal-fired generation is partially offset by a fall in OECD countries. Gas-fired generation grows in absolute terms, mainly in the non-OECD, but maintains a stable share of world electricity generation at around 21% over the Outlook period.”

Whereby the oil price should remain constant at 80-115 US $ in the next 25 years. Such insights were personally announced 10 years ago by the then IEA Chief Economist Dr. Faith Birol.

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It is now October 2020 and the same Dr. Faith Birol is currently Executive Director of the International Energy Agency. What we have now been told by the IEA's recently published in World Energy Outlook 2020 is so differentiated that it seems almost unbelievable:

"Solar energy will be the new king of the global electricity market. Under current conditions, photovoltaics will set a record for new capacity every year after 2022. It will be the cheapest power source the world has ever seen.”

Where this sudden turnaround came from is difficult to understand. Even more difficult to understand is why the largest oil companies want to switch to renewable energies of all things.

What is so special about solar energy that even these energy giants want to abandon their previous business model and invest in the oldest form of energy?

  • Firstly, this energy is already available everywhere free of charge and does not need to be generated.
  • Secondly, solar energy does not have to be extracted underground in heavy labor and then transported to the place of use.
  • On the other hand, solar energy can be converted into both electricity and thermal energy.

The above qualities bring enormous financial benefits, and it is good that the decision makers seem to have finally understood this.

But how can the global economy continue to function smoothly if the availability of fossil fuels is limited?

The answer is simple: shortly hydrogen will replace all that.

The German Federal Government has therefore developed a National Hydrogen Strategy (Die Nationale Wasserstoffstrategie) and underpinned it with an action plan which is to be continuously developed further. The Federal Cabinet adopted the National Hydrogen Strategy on June 10, 2020.

With this strategy, the Federal Government has set the course for innovative and sustainable energy and economic system.

Hydrogen produced in a climate-friendly manner will make it possible to significantly reduce CO2 emissions, especially in industry and transport, where energy efficiency and the direct use of electricity from renewable energies are not sufficient.

In addition to the climate policy aspects, hydrogen technologies are also about many future-proof jobs, new value creation potential, and a global market worth billions. German companies are already very well positioned in this field, for example in fuel cells and electrolysis for green hydrogen production. The aim is for Germany to maintain its global pioneering role in hydrogen technologies. 

Well, everyone who reads the lines will claim that the production of hydrogen is quite expensive at the moment and this is also the truth.

Another part of the truth is that hydrogen is produced by electrolysis and cheap electricity is already available. In addition to PV power plants, there are concentrating technologies that focus solar radiation by a factor of 1000X, making hydrogen production even cheaper.

Unfortunately, the huge solar tower and trough power plants that are currently being built are not suitable for this purpose. In reality, these are converted coal-fired power plants that still contain steam turbines and power generators. Only coal has been replaced by mirror fields and therefore these are rather inefficient and expensive to operate.

The fate of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project described by Bloomberg in January 2020 can only confirm this. More than 1 billion US Dollars have been lost in the sand.

Manuel António Gomes (known as Padre Himalaya) showed how solar energy can be used efficiently as early as 1904.

His Pyrheliophero (Greek for "he who brings fire"), a device that was presented in the Portuguese pavilion at the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis, was considered one of the greatest sensations. He received two gold medals and one silver medal for it. He was also awarded the "Great Prize of Louisiana Purchase Exposition". The device had thousands of mirrors, covered an agricultural area of 80 m², and generated heat by the sun of 4000 degrees Celsius.

This temperature is more than sufficient to induce thermal dissociation to split water vapor directly into hydrogen and oxygen.

Following on from earlier work by Padre Himalaya, I have developed DESERT SOLAR designed especially for sunny areas. In addition to free solar energy, free air is also used here, which is used to clean the glass surfaces covered by dust and sand. And in addition to electricity, heat is also generated that can be used for industrial processes.

So the generated electricity would be around 10 US$/MWh.

If this solar power plant were operated in the Sahara or the desert of Nevada, it would be possible to produce LOHC hydrogen at low cost and market it like crude oil in all directions of the world.

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