New Clean Power Powerhouse: Power-To-Gas Plus Software Defined Power Plants

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Power-to-gas is becoming an important part of the clean power picture on a large scale, but a missing piece of the puzzle is how to gin up market interest in smaller versions that could appeal to individual facilities and property owners. The clean energy storage company Electro Power Systems has figured out one good angle, by forming a just-announced partnership with the data analysis company AutoGrid Systems.

clean power hydrogen

Clean Power & Power-To-Gas

Power-to-gas has a number of slightly different meanings, so for our purposes, let’s clarify that we mean systems in which clean power is used to produce hydrogen fuel from water. That typically means wind or solar, though the economics can also work out for countries with existing hydro resources, such as Switzerland, as a means of capturing and storing excess energy during high-flow periods.

Without the clean power factor, power-to-gas makes little or no sense, because it would involve burning enormous quantities of fossil fuel to generate the electricity needed to “split” water. For you nuclear power fans, the economics of building and operating a nuclear facility for water-splitting don’t quite work out either (see Germany below).

Small Scale Clean Power Storage

In addition to Switzerland, clean power policy in Germany is tilting to large-scale power-to-gas growth, where it is being explored as a means of leveraging the country’s existing natural gas distribution system to store excess energy generated by wind or solar, which probably has something to do with Germany’s decision to idle its nuclear power plants by 2020.

The economics of power-to-gas plants are also beginning to gain traction for small-scale users, and that’s where the partnership between Electro Power and AutoGrid comes in.

Electro Power specializes in small-scale power-to-gas systems that use clean power to produce both hydrogen and oxygen for onsite storage. AutoGrid’s specialty is in the “virtual power plant” field, which involves using data-driven software to coordinate distributed clean power supply and demand in a grid.



 

As applied to individual units, AutoGrid’s demand-response optimization and management system (DROMS) does this:

AutoGrid’s unique and patented Predictive Controls technology provides EPS customers with the ability to forecast, optimize and control a portfolio of energy storage systems, along with other distributed energy resources such as Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants, solar power systems and demand response resources, in real-time and at scale.

With the Electro Power partnership, you get this:

These software capabilities enable EPS [Electro Power System] customers to create Software-Defined Power Plants that aggregate storage and other distributed energy resources into a single flexible dispatch-grade resource, which they can use to reduce their demand charges, to participate in utility demand response programs or to trade directly in electricity markets.

While, in the past, onsite energy storage was primarily used for backup power during grid disruptions, software systems like DROMS add a layer of benefit for day-to-day use because they enable utility customers to avoid demand charges (demand charges are added during peak periods and they can account for a huge proportion of an electricity bill).

As AutoGrid notes, once a customer develops onsite renewable energy and energy storage, it can sell excess energy to the grid. In addition to saving on utility bills, the system can also generate a little extra income, accelerating the return on investment.

Group Hug For US Taxpayers

If AutoGrid is starting to ring some bells, back in 2013, the Energy Department highlighted it along with 16 other companies for attracting $450 million in private investment after receiving a kickstart from the agency’s ARPA-E cutting-edge energy funding arm, so group hug to all you taxpayers. Here’s the rundown from the Energy Department:

AutoGrid’s success dates back to 2012 when it received funding from the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Partnering with Berkeley National Lab and Columbia University, AutoGrid developed an automated control software known as Demand Response Optimization and Management System — Real Time (DROMS-RT), which creates two-way communications between power suppliers and consumers to better meet real-time electricity demands…

This is how the Energy Department visualizes DROMS as it relates to utilities:

AutoGrid

Bottom-Line Benefits Of Clean Power

While US Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz did his best to derail last week’s COP21 Paris climate talks with a strategically timed hearing on climate science, the global non-fossil business community has come out in force for a strong international agreement, and US businesses have also lined up behind President Obama’s new Clean Power Plan.

That’s because, aside from the general interest in preserving a climate that allows for the survival of the human species, businesses are attracted by the bottom-line benefits of clean power in general, and clean power combined with energy storage in particular, and all of that is enhanced by smart controls for maximum effect.

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Photo via Electro Power Systems; Schematic via energy.gov.


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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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