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.