Diversifying our Energy Portfolio with Solar & Hydrogen & Microgrids…OH MY!
Dynapower’s Senior Director of Clean Energy, Chris Larsen , was a recent guest on the Fascination Street Podcast, hosted by Steve Owens. Chris and Steve covered a wide range of topics around the future of clean energy around the world…but they also discussed vertical algae gardens, a cotton-constructed frisbee, and Chris’s experience as a cotton smuggler. Below are a few highlights – if you enjoy them, be sure to catch the full podcast here.
Steve: Why did you decide to join Dynapower?
Chris: Dynapower is in the energy storage world. So when we talk about solar and wind, we’re sort of adjacent to that. So, if you ask me, how do I think of myself as an energy person? I’d say I’m a solar person…my DNA is solar. I spent some years at the North Carolina Solar Center, and have been a big, big advocate for solar ever since. And so when I joined Dynapower, it had more to do with my recognition that energy storage, big batteries, or it could be hydrogen, is needed because you have this intermittent resource. If we’re going to have high levels of penetration of solar, if the solar production is large enough, it can have a negative impact on the grid because it’s intermittent. So therefore, I viewed, and still do, energy storage in batteries and hydrogen as an enabling technology. Without energy storage, we are going to be limited in how much solar and wind we can install because they are intermittent. But when installed with storage, it helps smooth out the intermittency. So I view storage as enabling technology. And so that’s why I joined Dynapower because I felt like, hey, if I want to expand the solar industry, this is a very direct way to do it. Back then, that was nine years ago, Steve, when I joined, and we weren’t really thinking much about hydrogen at the time. And since then, we’ve sort of jumped into that space, but for similar reasons. It is a solar and wind enabler because it’s a big storage medium.
Steve: Tell me more about Dynapower’s involvement with the ACES Hydrogen project in Utah .
Chris: The ACES project is a good example of seasonal storage where they have so much capacity to store hydrogen. In this case, we’re talking about storing hydrogen in salt caverns underground, natural, kind of cool. You’ve got these natural tanks underground that are just enormous. And so for scale, what we’re talking about is the hydrogen storage in that particular facility is the equivalent of 80,000 40-foot containers
About the ACES projectChris Larsen on Fascination Street Podcast
of batteries. So if you can imagine 80,000 40-foot containers, that’s pretty big stuff. And so when we talk about sort of scale, that’s like the order of magnitude bigger than utility-scale batter storage. And so now we’re talking about being able to store energy on a seasonal basis. So if we produce more in the summer, great. We’re going to produce the hydrogen. And then in the winter months, when we have demand for energy, and yet we don’t have nearly as much solar, okay, we can now burn some of that hydrogen and deploy it on a seasonal basis. So pretty exciting stuff. And again, this really opens up possibilities for things like solar and wind in particular, to be bigger players on the grid.
Steve: Dynapower is a leading company in supporting microgrid technology….but not everyone is familiar with it. So tell us, what is a microgrid?
Chris: So imagine you’ve got a hospital. Obviously a hospital is critical infrastructure. We want to make sure that if the power goes down, if there’s an outage, for whatever reason, it could be a storm, it could be a car crash, whatever, power goes down, we’ve got to make sure that that hospital stays online. And so a microgrid, in the simplest sense, enables us to isolate. In this example, take the hospital, disconnect them from the grid, which is down, and then be able to re-energize the hospital so that it’s operating on its own, hopefully for as long as needed until the grid is back operational again. The word micro, of course, is deceptive because these microgrids can be really big, right? We’re talking with a utility in Canada right now about doing a massive microgrid…but the concept is the same, just on a bigger scale, right? Instead of
What is a microgrid?Chris Larsen on Fascination Street Podcast
isolating and protecting a hospital or a data center or a grocery store, we’re talking about isolating major swaths of their own grid. So if the overall grid goes down, these big chunks or sections of the grid can stay up. So microgrid isn’t always micro.
Steve: Why is it taking so long to commercialize hydrogen energy? What’s the hold up?
Chris: Everything’s relative. You’re right. I mean, we’re talking about green hydrogen, and why aren’t more plants going in right now? It’s a good question. I think that part of the challenge is that these are big, complicated plants. So the big question is, okay, where do we put the plant and who are we selling the hydrogen to? A lot of it has to do with getting what we call off-take agreements…meaning who’s going to buy the energy? The other part of it is that, frankly, we’re talking before about government subsidies. The U.S. has some programs in place to support hydrogen, as does Europe. But honestly, a lot of the rules around that, a lot of the regulations around the money, both in Europe and the US, are still getting written. So part of it is releasing those funds, which will only happen once the rules are written. That money is sitting at the bank, but it can’t be deployed yet. And another part is that it does take a fair bit of work to architect these off-take agreements in a way that becomes bankable. If we’re talking about spending $5 billion to build a plant, you better have figured out whom you’re selling it to and have some long-term agreements. And these things are being done. And I think we’re going to see the pace pick up quite a bit in 2024 and 2025.
If you enjoyed these excerpts, be sure to catch the full Fascination Street Podcast at this link.