Hydrogen Hypothesis: Energy Infrastructure

Luke Watkins is in the final year of his PhD in the School of Chemical Engineering & Advanced Materials at Newcastle University. He was funded by NIReS to attend the 2013 Hypothesis Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Conference in Edinburgh in July 2013. In this third instalment of four posts, Luke reflects on the energy infrastructures and various solutions that are being implemented across the world.

“Improving the energy infrastructure in Europe is not straightforward as we are locked towards these fossil fuels. MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) found that doubling the wind-turbine fleet in the US would result in running coal-fired plants through inefficient start-up/shut-down cycles to meet shortfalls in demand, resulting in increasing the overall carbon emissions. Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) found Scotland’s over saturated grid network had spent millions of pounds paying wind farm owners to turn their turbines off on unexpectedly breezy summer nights. REF director Lee Moroney says:

“The variability of wind power poses grid management problems for which there are no cheap solutions” [1]

Perhaps Scotland should take note of Germany’s recent development. Their U-turn on nuclear (a decision made before Fukishima) steered them dramatically towards renewable energies, challenging them to find ways to integrate this into their current energy infrastructure. In August 2013, E.ON launched a power-to-gas (P2G) unit in Falkenhagen in eastern Germany (Figure 2). The unit uses wind energy to power electrolysers that transform water into hydrogen, which is injected into the regional gas transmission system [2].

Figure 2. E.ON injects hydrogen into natural gas system for the first time on an industrial scale

Figure 2. E.ON injects hydrogen into natural gas system for the first time on an industrial scale

Dr. Ingo Luge, CEO of E.ON Deutschland proclaims:

“This project makes E.ON one of the first companies to demonstrate that surplus energy can be stored in the gas pipeline system in order to help balance supply against demand. It will reduce the need to take wind turbines offline when the local grid is congested and will therefore enable us to harness more wind power.”

While the current energy infrastructure is not designed for a swift transition to hydrogen energy, recent developments have given hydrogen a key role in transport roadmaps across the globe. In the UK, a program called UK H2Mobility looks towards the potential for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. The coalition (current groups shown in Figure 3) assembled facts that will develop a roadmap for the roll-out of fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK.

Figure 3. UK H2Mobility is a coalition between the following groups

Figure 3. UK H2Mobility is a coalition between the following groups

Phase 1 results were out earlier this year. Phase 2 will develop a commercial model for building an early refuelling infrastructure and establish clear technical and commercial pathways towards low carbon production of hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles. Similar programmes in France (Mobilité Hydrogène France) and the United States (H2USA) also launched this year. The final instalment discusses Scotland’s approach to implementation of a hydrogen energy infrastructure.

Tips:

  • Get involved
  • Flash your university logo about
  • Position yourself near free liquid refreshment distribution

Acknowledgements

While only securing my funds for the Hypothesis Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Conference a week before the event, a variety of people I’d never met before had done a top end job at sorting me out and arranging me to attend my first conference. So a massive thanks to Elizabeth Johnson and the rest of the Pure Energy Centre® crew for allowing me to arrange my talk and attendance so late, and also for Jennifer Hazelton and NIReS for their invaluable support.

1.  REF. Consumers pay Scottish windfarms to throw energy away.  2011 [cited August 2013]

2.  E.ON. E.ON inaugurates power-to-gas unit in Falkenhagen in eastern Germany 2013 [cited August 2013]

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