NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power & Light, is leading an aggressive shift to wind and solar power in the Sunshine State. Recently, it has also moved to add battery storage to its renewable energy portfolio. When its Manatee county energy storage facility is completed in 2021, it will be the world’s largest battery storage installation at 409 MW/900 MWh. (The PG&E/Tesla battery at Moss Landing in California will have 182.5 MW and 730 MWh of storage, but that could be increased to 1.1 GWh at some point in the future.}
NextEra likes to conduct small experiments with new technologies to see whether it is cost effective, and then it goes big if the trials are successful. That’s what it did with solar panels. It now plans to install 30 million of them by 2030. Early tests of battery storage were completed successfully, which led to the decision to construct the Manatee battery facility.
Now the company has its eye on another technology that may help it eliminate all emissions associated with the electricity it provides to its customers — hydrogen made by electrolysis using renewable energy that would otherwise be “clipped” or curtailed. According to NASDAQ.com, during the company’s second quarter earnings call, CFO Rebecca Kujawa told analysts,
“Based on our ongoing analysis of the long-term potential of low-cost renewables, we remain confident as ever that wind, solar, and battery storage will be hugely disruptive to the country’s existing generation fleet, while reducing cost for customers and helping to achieve future CO2 emissions reductions. However, to achieve an emissions-free future, we believe that other technologies will be necessary, and we are particularly excited about the long-term potential of hydrogen.”
The company plans to test the electricity to hydrogen to electricity model at its Okochobee Clean Energy Center near Orlando. That natural gas-powered generating station came online in 2019 and is already one of the cleanest burning thermal energy facilities in the world. But if the natural gas it burns could be replaced with zero emissions hydrogen, that would be a major step forward in the company’s plan to be 100% emissions free by 2050. Here’s more from Rebecca Kujawa.
“Consistent with the toe-in-the-water approach, we have previously utilized with solar and battery storage, we are planning to propose a hydrogen pilot project at Florida Power & Light.. It is an approximately $65 million pilot project, which, subject to Florida Public Service Commission approval, is expected to be in service in 2023.
“We will utilize solar energy that would have otherwise been clipped to produce 100% green hydrogen through a roughly 20-megawatt electrolysis system. The hydrogen will be used to replace a portion of the natural gas that is consumed by one of the three gas turbines at the Okeechobee Clean Energy Center. We believe that the project is a complement to our ongoing solar and battery storage development efforts and highlights FPL’s continued innovative approach to further enhance the diversity of the clean energy solutions available for its customers.”
She went on to say the company plans to “continue to evaluate other potential hydrogen opportunities across our businesses. And while our near-term investments are expected to be small in context of our overall capital program, we are excited about the technology’s long-term potential, which should further support future demand for low cost renewables, as well as accelerate decarbonization of transportation fuel and industrial feedstocks.”
That last sentence is revealing. We at CleanTechnica are rather dismissive of hydrogen. Our view may be tainted by the disastrous experience of Toyota and Honda in trying to bring hydrogen fuel cell cars to market at a time when it was intuitively obvious to the most casual observer that electric cars were the preferred way to reduce emissions from privately owned automobiles. We have also been influenced by the words of Elon Musk, who has always been quite dismissive of hydrogen fuel cells in general, referring to them often as “fool cells.”
A third reason why we have looked upon hydrogen with a jaundiced eye is because much of the hydrogen available today is made from reforming natural gas, which itself is obtained by torturing the Earth to release the stuff via fracking, which heavily pollutes the groundwater beneath the fracking operations.
Perhaps we need to rearrange our thinking on the whole hydrogen question, however. Hydrogen could transform many industries, like steel-making, to slash their emissions, or could permit container ships to operate with low or no emissions. Volkswagen has just begun delivering cars to overseas markets in ships powered by compressed natural gas. That’s a big improvement over conventional ships that run on bunker oil, but imagine if that CNG could be replaced in the future by compressed hydrogen?
The possibilities for lowering the world’s carbon emissions by using hydrogen are enormous. And if that hydrogen comes from using renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted, that makes the idea all that much more appealing. Kudos to NextEra Energy and Florida Power & Light for having the courage and foresight to investigate future technologies. Hopefully their openness to considering new paths toward a zero emissions world will impact some of their less progressive peers in the utility industry.
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