Hydrogen is in the clean energy spotlight – but its success rests largely in the ability to address hydrogen storage. Generally, one of the most challenging aspects in the energy sector isn’t necessarily producing the energy as much as it is in storing it and transmitting it. The ability to get the power where it needs to be and storing it there can be the limiting factor on how clean our energy sources can be. Our Senior Director of Clean Energy, Chris Larsen , was a guest on Chris Brandt ‘s FUTR Podcast and they discussed this issue and many others. Below are some excerpts – to hear the full podcast, click here.
Why is energy storage so important?
If you look at my DNA, I identify as a solar guy. I came to Dynapower because I realized that, hey, this solar industry is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s growing rapidly. We’ll get to a point where the limiting reagent is the ability to store that solar energy, right? If you have upwards of 40% of your power on the grid coming from intermittent resources, that being wind and solar, which is a reality right now in countries like Denmark. So how do you deal with that? Because that can create havoc on the grid. And so that’s where energy storage comes into comes into play and sort of that’s been where we’ve made our our contribution to the to the clean energy industry.
What about electrification of industrial markets?
We have a whole other division – the Power Systems division – which is doing really interesting work in industries from defense to mining to industrial metal finishing to steel. And the common denominator there is that it’s not solar, it’s not wind, it’s not hydrogen, and yet it’s part of the cleaning up – the move to clean energy. The electrification of those industries is one of the pathways, one of the important pathways, to this carbon net neutral world that we envision. I was recently reminded that I think it’s maybe 8% of global CO2 emissions come from the steel industry. So, all right, we need to be going inside of these industries that are major contributors to CO2 production and other pollutants.
Energy Storage Chemistries
Now, there are all kinds of challenges, but there are a lot of really smart people, a lot of smart companies that are working on this…I’ll tell you what, it’s fun. Where we sit in this space, we’re the power electronics people, right? So we do all the conversion, right? If anything needs to go from AC to DC, or DC to AC, or DC to DC, or frequency converters, that’s what we do. In a sense, we’re sort of agnostic to the storage chemistry. And that’s important because it doesn’t mean that we don’t care. It actually means that we get to interact with and learn about all these new technologies that are coming into the markets. I almost feel like we have our own technology advancements that we’re working on. How do we make our gear more reliable, more efficient? All these things that we’re working on, but we also get to touch and interact with these storage companies, hydrogen companies, lithium ion battery companies, non-lithium ion batteries, and we get to see a lot of cool stuff. That’s one of the fun parts of our job.
About the ACES Project
The Utah project, it’s called the ACES project, the Advanced Clean Energy Storage Project . And it’s a cool story because this is a project that, present tense, this site exists, and it’s a coal-fired power plant. And there’s a direct transmission line, it’s an HVDC line, which is fancy talk for high voltage direct current. So it’s a more efficient way of transmitting power. But there’s a line that goes directly from this coal plant in basically northwestern Utah straight to southern California, to Los Angeles specifically. So most of the power from this facility is going to the LA. So, the concept is, this site has two massive salt caverns underground, and they are looking at doing a couple of things. One, replacing the coal-fired plant that’s currently there with gas turbines. But they’re going to be changing out from coal to natural gas. But the interesting part of the story is that at the same site, they are producing hydrogen using electrolysis and using solar electricity, so it’s green hydrogen. They’re going to produce hydrogen and store it in these salt caverns that are right there, and these salt caverns are massive. So they’re using these caverns for hydrogen storage, and they’ll be burning the hydrogen initially as a blend in these turbines. The turbines will be running 70% natural gas, 30% hydrogen. Eventually that will change to 100% hydrogen. So these turbines are designed to take 100% hydrogen. These are being provided by Mitsubishi, they’re the major contractor for the hydrogen part of this as well as the turbines.
ACES – Seasonal long duration storage
It’s a storage project, but it’s storage on a new scale where it’s seasonal storage. We talk about long duration storage – that’s 10 hours of storage. So we can take this energy from the daytime, store it, and then we’ll have it available for the peaks in the evening and the early morning. Okay, that’s great. But with ACES, now we’re talking about a whole new sort of dimension to storage, seasonal storage, where we can take power that’s produced at one time of the year and then generate electricity and export it when it’s needed at another time of the year. So really a fascinating concept.
Reducing Green Hydrogen Costs
Our role in producing green hydrogen is feeding DC power into the electrolyzer. One of the challenges we talk about is how do we drive down the cost? Between 60 and 80 percent of the cost of producing green hydrogen is in the energy that’s feeding it. So the op-ex, not so much the cap-ex. Cap-ex is important, but the operating expenses, the cost of the renewables, is the biggest single driver. So how do you increase efficiency? One method is by cutting down on the number of power conversions – DC to AC to DC, etc. – you can just imagine all the losses. So we’re working on a concept to skip the whole AC business and all medium voltage. Can we just take solar DC electricity run it through a DC-DC converter just to convert the voltages to what’s needed and then feed it directly into the electrolyzer? Basically, instead of having effectively four steps, five, depending on how you count it, to basically having one step through a single converter.
This is just a brief sampling of an in-depth and thoughtful podcast……….be sure to catch the full episode here or via your favorite podcast platform!