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Clean Power Siemens-wind-night-hydrogen

Published on April 19th, 2012 | by Susan Kraemer


Siemens Figures Out What to Do With Night Wind

April 19th, 2012 by  


image via Shutterstock/benkei1975

German energy giant Siemens has a solution in the works to tap the unused wind-powered electricity that goes to waste at night because no one is up and about. The planet’s daily temperature swings stir up night-time winds, just when no one needs electricity.

Solving the storage issue is especially crucial for Germany, which, by cutting its nuclear power, is correspondingly scaling up its offshore wind power 20-fold by 2020 — when it will have 10 GW of off-shore wind power on the grid. It already has 29 GW of on-shore wind and that will be more by then too.

Using part of their annual 1 billion euro R&D budget ($1.3 billion), Siemens is working on devising large scale electrolysis that would convert wind energy into gas that can be stored — as electricity cannot be — and can then be shipped out, when it is needed, by pipeline.

Their electrolyser, a soccer-field-sized plant that converts power into storable hydrogen, is in the testing phase, Michael Weinhold, chief technology officer of Siemens’ energy businesses told Bloomberg.

“We believe storage will make economic sense if more and more renewable power comes on-line and depresses power prices during peak supply times, a trend we will already witness this year,” Weinhold said. “We are currently testing the technology with customers, and it’s at the brink of being commercially viable.”

With Europe so dependent on temperamental Russian gas supplies — recently yanked from under them over a political issue — their test is timely. But if successful, it will also address a larger problem, and one that affects wind power development globally, and not just at night.

It seems ridiculous to turn off good clean energy from wind farms when there’s too much hydropower on the grid, but that is what happened in the Bonneville Power Authority region in the Pacific Northwest in recent storms that supplied too many kinds of good clean energy for the grid to use.

Electricity can not be stored on the grid, the supply must be perfectly balanced with needs. Wind power is famous for having to be given away for free in the wee hours when no one is awake — they don’t call them off-peak hours for nothing.

In both Texas and Germany, wind power prices have on occasion even turned negative, making wind even cheaper than “too cheap to meter.” If wind power happens at the wrong time, developers can literally have to pay to offload their output.

“The main problem today is the mismatch of renewable power generation and demand,” Weinhold said in an interview with Bloomberg. “If we can offer solutions to solve that, we have a business case.”

Finding a job for wind energy to do at night, that translates its energy into a stored form, is essential to the fiscal health of the wind industry, and its health is essential to making the very big switch to clean power in the 21st century.

Siemens expects to have their turbine-powered night-time electrolysis ready by 2015.

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

  • SirSparks

    I wonder what they plan for all the oxygen (50% volume of the hydrogen production) the electrolysis will produce? I they piped both then they would have the right mix for fuel cells to directly reconvert them into electricity as needed. In fact why even pipe them? just store them locally until needed.

    • Siemens with a billion for yearly R&D is sure to come up with a very large and scalable solution like you suggest

  • Captivation

    10 GW is only 1000 watts each for 10 million people. So the goal should be to have a small part of the population recharge their electric cars at night. Instead of building unnecessary plants, they should be exploring ways to increase electric car sales.

    • Ross

      According to Wikipedia had 29GW of wind connected in 2011 so I’m not sure what that 10GW by 2020 figure relates to.

      • Ross

        Sorry it’s off-share capacity of 10GW.

        • Right – It is just counting their off-shore wind, which is not as developed as their on shore capacity

    • 10 GW is just their off shore wind they are building. They also have 25 GW of solar and 29 GW of regular land based wind… as well as charging at night, it is actually necessary to find a night job for wind as well to fill in the gap.

  • Marcus

    Vanadium Eedox Batteries & pumped storage are other ways to store excess energy. Another option is to uze the energy to charge people’s electric cars & other electric vehicles for the following day.

    • Yep. I don’t know why people seem to think energy storage is so insoluble

  • Luke

    Sounds like a good idea! Perhaps they should contact Dr. Sadaway with his Mg-Sb liquid metal batteries and collaborate. I saw another good idea expressed in a comment around here about how you could potentially store compressed air inside the wind turbine tower.

    Three good ideas. The Hydrogen from Electrolysis concept is fantastic and if the Hydrogen economy takes off, they could be on to a winner here.

  • M Hurley

    Someone should hook them up with the TED guy with the liquid batteries.

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