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Load Management Issues with Green Energy and Hydrogen Storage

image credit: High-pressure Electrolyzer; image: DOE
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Using hydrogen generated from renewable sources, especially those that would be unused and therefore wasted, seems like a way to advance the use of renewables on the grid while storing energy for on-demand usage. There are some serious issues, however. The Department of Energy (DOE) recently set up a research group to look into this.

Hydrogen is produced using electrolyzers from water – so if renewable energy sources are utilized, then the result would be carbon free. The green hydrogen created could then be stored for later use in fuel cells or gas turbines to generate electricity.

This is thought to be a necessary technology to balance loads on the grid when as a society we are using a lot more renewable energy and have shut down most of the reliable, but GHG emitting coal-fired power stations which were previously the backbone load engines of the electricity network.

Technical challenges include safety measures – hydrogen atoms are tiny, corrosive, flammable, and easily escape containment – transporting and storing hydrogen and improving electrolyzer performance.

Current estimates suggest that the cost per kilogram of hydrogen has to decline from $5-6 to $1-2 to make this technology viable on a commercial scale. The DOE has launched a program called “Hydrogen Shot” with the goal of bringing costs down by 80% to $1 per kg.

A major, and under-acknowledged issue is where do we get sufficient renewable energy from? Most of it will be used in the grid already. For example, solar power will be used during the day. The US has good onshore wind resources, but they are often far from population centers. Wyoming or South Dakota could supply this wind, but long-distance HVDC power lines would need to be built. Pumped storage is another possibility – but it is expensive, only has a few suitable locations, and takes a long time to construct.

To manage green hydrogen in its grid applications will need some long-term planning and careful siting to ensure that the resources are available when and where needed to manage renewable loads.

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