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Lincoln Bleveans's picture
Executive Director -- Sustainability & Energy Management Stanford University

Global Energy, Water, and Sustainability Executive | Thought Leader, Speaker, and Writer | Strategy, Planning, Project Development, Operations, M&A, and Transformation | Team Builder...

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  • Nov 9, 2020
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You see an old coal plant and an obsolescent workforce; I see a superb opportunity for green hydrogen.  And we're making it happen right now.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 9, 2020

The space, the interconnections, heck even the communities of trained / skilled workers-- there's a lot of good that can come from this, and as we look to the friction-filled transition part of the energy transition identifying opportunities like this will remain key

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 9, 2020

"You say old coal plant, I say green hydrogen...and we're making it happen right now."

No we're not, Lincoln. As a Burbank Water & Power customer I'm quite familiar with our power mix, and say what you want - rigbt now Burbank has yet to make a single cubic foot of green hydrogen "happen".

That a full 30% of our power comes from a coal plant in Utah, in 2020, is shameful. Not only could the CCGT gas turbines at our city's Magnolia Power Project generate that electricity with 40% lower emissions, we're outsourcing our electricity to a coal plant in Utah. Why? Because it's cheaper.

"Like natural gas, that hydrogen contains heat that can be released with combustion to drive a generator. Unlike natural gas, that combustion is GHG-free."

No, it isn't, Lincoln. It's simply been shifted to the steam-reforming plant where the hydrogen was made, hasn't it? In fact, the process is far less efficient, and generates far more emissions, that simply burning natural gas in the CCGT gas turbines the Magnolia Power Project.

Doesn't it?

 

Lincoln Bleveans's picture
Lincoln Bleveans on Nov 10, 2020

I understand your concerns, Bob, and thank you for your comments. 

Burbank is contractally committed to the IPP coal plant until mid-2025, at which point it the project will cut-over to the natural gas + green hydrogen combined-cycle plant.  That green hydrogen will be produced using renewable energy and the water supplies at the IPP site and is thus considered GHG-free.  By "making that happen" I was referring to the planning and engineering that is in full swing to meet that mid-2025 cut-over; I apologize for any misunderstanding.

In the meantime, we work each day to provide the least expensive power to Burbank from our diverse portfolio of conventional and renewable resources (including both IPP and Magnolia) consistent with reliability and our renewable portfolio standard and GHG targets.  Those are environmental as well as economic decisions: because we include the cost of GHG in our dispatch decisions, MPP actually tends to be less expensive on the margins than IPP.

I expect to brief the BWP Board soon on our progress with IPP repowering (inc. green hydrogen).  Those are public meetings and I would welcome your attendance and participation.  

Thanks again.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 11, 2020

Thanks for your response, Lincoln.

Given the tiny amount of hydrogen available from renewable electricity, and given it will replace a fraction of the natural gas powering IPP's turbines (5-10%?), I think it's safe to say hydrogen at IPP will be useful more for cosmetic than environmental purposes.

We'd be creating far fewer emissions by buying solar power directly from Intermountain, rather than injecting a token amount of hydrogen into the fuel mix there.

I'm also dismayed that Burbank accepts "Renewable Energy Certificates" (RECs) at face value for meeting its clean energy goals. Because the scheme permits two entities to take credit for generating the same clean energy, "100% renewable" electricity plans are in truth 50% renewable; 50% plans are 25% renewable, etc.

That the State of California accepts this deception for meeting its goals is inexcusable; I would hope Burbank held ours to a higher standard.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Nov 14, 2020

Lincoln,

Thanks for info... good stuff.

You said:

Burbank is contractally committed to the IPP coal plant until mid-2025, at which point it the project will cut-over to the natural gas + green hydrogen combined-cycle plant

It looks like ouptut from Intermountain has declined somewhat over the last few years.  Just wondering - what is the lower limit of the contract?  Also, with this lower generation I am assuming there is "room" left to transmit some solar generation.  Any plans to get the solar in before 2025?

Lincoln Bleveans's picture
Lincoln Bleveans on Nov 17, 2020

Great question, Joe.  There has always been significant STS capacity above and beyond the generation capacity at Delta.  BWP uses some of its extra STS capacity to bring in power from the Milford wind project which located near and interconnected at IPP.  And we are looking at additional solar and wind in that area now.

When IPP generation is reduced from 1800 MW to 840 MW in the repowering, that "extra" capacity will increase significantly, allowing even more renewables to come down the STS.  As the STS is a DC line, it does require a few hundred MW of dispatchable rotating mass at the Delta end of the line -- coal now, CCGT from 2025 -- but the rest is available for renewables.

Lincoln Bleveans's picture
Lincoln Bleveans on Nov 12, 2020

Thanks Bob. 

We are actually planning for 25% hydrogen when the plant comes online in 2025 and increasing from there. 

On the solar question, we do expect to bring in signifcant amounts of solar down the STS transmission line from IPP.  That said, it's important to note that IPP will play different roles in our portfolio than a solar project: as a dispatchable integrator of renewables, as a physical driver of the direct-current STS, and contractually as a provider of access to the STS. 

I talked about these issues at length when the Burbank City Council approved BWP's participation in the repowered IPP project on July 23, 2019.  That video and supporting documents are available on the City's website.

The REC question is an important one.  Per CEC regulations, BWP can only fulfill a small portion of its compliance requirement with the Portfolio Content Category 3 (aka "Bucket 3") RECs that you describe.  And that has been our practice, consistent with our mandate to balance reliability, affordability, and sustainability for our ratepayers.  

Thanks again for your comments and, as always, I strongly encourage participation in BWP's decision-making process both at our Board and at City Council. 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 13, 2020

Lincoln, thanks for adding much needed clarity to the original article.

For a power plant to run on 25% hydrogen is truely remarkable, especially if it all comes from electrolysis.

So for your electrolysis system to have adequate capacity, would it have to run at the full 30% capacity factor that is typical for desert PV?  Or can you run at an even lower capacity factor, so that you're using excess (near zero cost) clean electricity?  That would be even more remarkable.

Of course, if the electrolysis plant is running on grid power at times when the grid mix contains even a small amount of fossil fuel derived power, that would count as converting fossil fuel to hydrogen, at lower efficiency than an SMR plant would.  (In a market based dispatch system, it's the marginal provider that counts in this situation, not the average).

Lincoln Bleveans's picture
Lincoln Bleveans on Nov 13, 2020

Our RFP is for green hydrogen only, so the vendor will need to source RPS-compliant energy (and prove that to us, of course) for any electrolysis.  That said, the western markets are awash in solar during the day -- and we can hydro-mine caverns in the underlying salt deposits to store the H2 between production and combustion --  so the vendor will likely enter into various contractual and market renewable energy purchases to achieve that.  Clearly some innovation in project structuring and business models, but also reminds me of the iterative commercial innovations we saw in the independent power industry in the 1990s and 2000s.  

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 13, 2020

Thanks, Lincoln, very helpful. Question: CEC defines Category 3 RECs as

"RECs that do not include the physical delivery of the energy that generated the REC. Generally, Category 3 RECs are associated with the sale and purchase of the RECs themselves, not the energy."

Given all RECs, regardless of category, are "associated with the sale and purchase of the RECs themselves", this makes no sense.

How does separating the clean energy "attributes" from the energy itself not artificially double its value? When a REC is sold to offset power from a gas or coal plant, it erases from the ledger any corresponding emissions (the source of the power is thereafter listed as "null").

If it's available, SCPPA should be buying more nuclear energy from Palo Verde. That would be the most economical and effective (and honest) way to supply members with 100% clean baseload power.

Lincoln Bleveans's picture
Lincoln Bleveans on Nov 17, 2020

Thanks Bob. 

The interplay between power, RECs, and GHG credits is complex but the associated accounting is rigorous and transparent.  I am confident that the system works as intended by the policymakers.  But opinions can differ.

Getting additional capacity from Palo Verde would in theory be a great planning option but the plant is fully subscribed.  There is no additional capacity available without expanding the plant itself.   

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Nov 17, 2020

Lincoln,

There is a much better approach to the issue.

Use renewable energy to create hydrogen at the combined-cycle plant and burn it using the boiler duct burners to increase plant output. 

Excess ill-timed renewable energy is used to create hydrogen via electrolysis, compressed and stored in gas cylinders for later use with the boilers duct burners. These burners are routinely used by combined-cycle power plants to increase steam production (power output) to meet grid peaks. Technically this is much easier to do than mixing hydrogen with the natural gas and then firing it in the gas turbine. Burning hydrogen with the duct burners produces no green house gases. The are also no NOx emissions.

This is significantly more cost effective than the approach outlined in your article. Considering the excessive oversupply of green power in the middle of the day, the city should be able to get power for electrolysis for next to nothing. Also, really easy to add the needed equipment to an existing combined-cycle power plant.

As far as the coal plant is concerned, needs to be permanently taken out of service. If the city needs more baseload power, build an additional combined-cycle power plant.

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 17, 2020

"Excess ill-timed renewable energy is used to create hydrogen via electrolysis, compressed and stored in gas cylinders for later use with the boilers duct burners."

You're describing an extremely wasteful process that, overall, would likely use more energy than it would provide:

"Green hydrogen remains relatively inefficient and expensive today. It has an end-to-end efficiency of around 30 percent [does not include compressing it and storing it in gas cylinders]...As a result, it's hard to see it being used for electricity generation in markets such as the U.S., where natural gas prices are expected to remain low for the foreseeable future."

The Reality Behind Green Hydrogen’s Soaring Hype

Better to skip hydrogen and use use green electricity as available from the Southern Transmission System line.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Nov 18, 2020

Bob, 

You are missing the big picture. Generating lots of renewable energy when the energy is not actually needed is inherently not very bright. However, if the politicians are determined to force that to happen, money can be made by taking advantage of the situation.

The duct burner approach I outlined allows the ill-timed green energy to be shifted to when the energy is needed (typically evening hours). If somebody pays you to take the renewable energy, then creating electrolysis hydrogen can be profitable. I never said it was efficient.

The approach I outlined is also more cost effective than installing megawatt-hour sized batteries. The necessary infrasture to use the hydrogen and distribute the electricity is also already in place at the power plant.

In a rational world, one would not overbuild green energy capacity and the actual cost of energy would be the key consideration. Places like California are not rational

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Nov 18, 2020

Bob, 

Simply burning natural gas is more efficient than making hydrogen and then burning the hydrogen. However, the cost of the two fuels needs to be considered in the financial analysis.

The majority of the cost of making hydrogen is associated with the energy used to break down the water. If that cost is nearly zero (or somebody is paying you) then the overall economics are not too bad.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Nov 17, 2020

P.S. As your Magnolia plant already employs duct burners, this is an easy modification. Will need space for electrolyzers, small hydrogen compressor and gas storage cylinders/flasks. Could problably get it done within 6 months. Have no idea what the permitting time is but as emissions from duct burner operation would plummet, state should be OK with the modification. Looks like a win-win for everybody.

Lincoln Bleveans's picture
Lincoln Bleveans on Nov 17, 2020

Thanks Michael.  We have not actively considered the use of hydrogen at MPP but the question is not far from our minds.  The duct burner idea is interesting.  I will raise it with our engineers at the appropriate time. 

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