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Published on June 19th, 2013 | by Dr. Karl-Friedrich Lenz


Germany Opens Another Hybrid Wind Power Plant

June 19th, 2013 by  

This article first appeared on the Lenz Blog

From this tweet by the always excellent Energiewende Germany I learned about an article titled “Hydrogen plant starts storing wind energy in Germany“.

As is clear from the title, this is another project to use wind energy in times where demand can’t keep up with supply to make some hydrogen from water. That is the future for storage of surplus renewable energy, since the existing infrastructure can store massive amounts of hydrogen gas.

The German existing gas infrastructure could handle storage of up to 200 TWh, which is much more than the about 30 TWh an electricity system of 100% renewable would need. But to get that capacity, people need to start building these kind of plants that store electricity from wind or solar as hydrogen. We still have a decade or two to go until renewable gets to 100%, but it is still a good idea to start early.

Enertrag has opened the first plant like this in 2011. At the time with a capacity of only 500 kW. The new plant reported on in that article has 2 MW. And it is operated by E.ON, one of the “big four” German utilities that used to show no interest in renewable energy and leave the investment in the sector to citizen projects.

As the article notes, only about 50% of the energy from the surplus electricity can be stored in hydrogen.

But that is of course not a problem. In the many time slots where demand can’t keep up even now, the electricity would be wasted anyway. And in the few time slots without wind and solar available (the occasional cold November night) that stored energy will have a very high value on the market.

Over this weekend, many countries in Europe saw negative electricity prices, with France and its inflexible nuclear plants reaching minus 4 cent per kWh. People were paid good money if they used electricity, helping to reduce the supply overload. In such a time slot it doesn’t matter that only 50% of the energy will be stored. There is too much available in the first place.

And while the technology for making hydrogen may still be somewhat expensive (that 2 MW plant cost around $2 million), there is only a need to store around 5% of yearly demand. Spread that cost over all electricity over a feed-in tariff or some such policy, and it won’t matter much. Let’s also note that gas plant capacity is by far the cheapest to build of all power plants at only about EUR400 a kW, which helps save money on the cost of the whole system as well.

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About the Author

is a professor of German and European Law at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, blogging since 2003 at Lenz Blog. A free PDF file of his global warming science fiction novel "Great News" is available here.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “existing infrastructure can store massive amounts of hydrogen gas”

    This part is interesting.

    The overall math is going to be even more interesting. With a 50% inefficiency in production and some other level of inefficiency in conversion of hydrogen to electricity (50% in a fuel cell?) the input costs for an output kWh of electricity are going to be high. Ten cents in the front end might be worth only 2-3 cents out the other end.

    Pump-up hydro, running about 85% efficient has a big head start. Hydro can be used for very short term grid smoothing and daily time shifting electricity. The hydrogen approach is too lossy to make sense for those uses. And by storing a “three/whatever day full output” reserve of water in the reservoir the turbines can be used in the infrequent period of very low renewable input.

    The more frequently a system gets used the cheaper it is. You can spread the fixed costs over more units of sales.

    • ms

      Hydrostorage is the best .. but the ideal places for hydrostorage systems are limited in germany.

      There is a deal on the issue to use waterstorage capacity in norway.
      Another ‘just an Idea’ for the future are Hydraulic Hydro Storages.

      • Bob_Wallace

        From your link…

        “Assuming that power could evenly be bought at €20 (US$30) per megawatt-hour during peak production and sold at €70 (US$100) per MWh during peak consumption, and assuming that the system had 70 percent conversion efficiency, Heindl expects a return on investment in four years for a system with a 500 meter radius and 1 kilometer depth.”

        That’s a $0.03/kWh to $0.10/kWh spread. If the system can operate at a profit and store for 7 cents per kWh then it has promise.

        There are utility scale batteries (Eos Systems) that are going on the grid in the next few months and claim to be able to store for 10 cents.

        I’d bet that batteries can hit the 7 cent price point. And they will have significant advantages in the ease at which they can be sited and distributed around the grid.

        Pump-up hydro costs about the same, but it harder to site as you point out.

        It’s going to be interesting to watch the storage puzzle being solved….

  • Others

    Combination of Electricity & Heat can make Hydrogen more efficiently, so they can add Solar-Thermal to get some heat or use waste heat from nearly coal or gas or nuclear power plant.

    BTW, latest Gen 3+ nuclear reactors can reduce the increase / decrease the load in 5 minutes. When the electricity / hydrogen storage comes up, nuclear power will also benefit.

    So if the electricity costs negative to use, why not the French buy some batteries to get charged at that time, later when the home needs more, that electricity can be drawn from battery.

  • Russell

    Why do you want to put the gas into the network? Wouldn’t the goal be a cheap efficient fuel cell next to the hydrogen generation plant so the wind plant effectively then gives continuous power seasonably as well as daily.

  • Matt

    I’m not sure on this one either. If they were storing/using local (think pump hydro) it is clearer. At 50% “lost” that likely doesn’t count the “lost” when it is used. I don’t see how this is the best option on the table right now. I guess they think the plus is it lets people keep using gas.

    I think long term it is a mixture.
    – Fast/short time: UltraCaps or flywheels (real time balancing)
    – Time of day shifting: Batteries, compressed air, pump storage, heat/cold storage (for home, commerical, industry)
    – Shifting of days/weeks is not yet clear to me. Maybe it is cheaper to use time of day. Build to 110% for time of year at lowest production. Then when time of day shifting systems full crank up CO2 capture machine use the extra juice that way.
    But then we are still a ways off from that problem, and better solutions will likely come along.

  • JamesWimberley

    A straight question. The pilot plant reported on here converts electricity into hydrogen gas. But the current gas network and burners are designed to run on natural gas, which is 95% methane. I dare say you can add a bit of hydrogen to this without your gas cooker failing, but how much? For the quantities envisaged by Quaschning, surely you need either to reform your hydrogen further into methane, or re-engineer the gas grid and its burners.

    • eject

      Well, it isn’t that long ago ( it took quiet some time after reunification) that the German gas network was mainly supplying CO+H2. There are still some folks around that are pretty scared of gas because they never really got that now something entirely different comes from the same pipe.

      However, you are right that some stuff needed the nozzels and the pressure limiters changed to adjust the flow. Real modern gas heating might not care at all because it is just measuring the oxygen content in the exhaust gas and will be readjusting the ratios. But there will be problems if H2 is mixed in the gasnetwork above a certain %tage. Especially with pressurized storage tanks that keep the gas pressure adequate in the network. The H2 would leak out and damage ferrous metals in the process. So they are looking at transforming that stuff to CH4.

      Still I think they should rather make NH3 from it instead of sourcing the H2 needed for that from natgas.

  • eject

    I’m still not convinced that this is the way to go. I would much rather prefer a model where process energy in industry which is derived from nat-gas would be fitted with heat pumps and electrical heaters, this way 100% of the excess energy could be stored in gas by not burning gas,

    • Ross

      At best it looks like an interim step pending removal of the need for the legacy fossil fuel gas distribution network.

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