Thursday, March 29, 2012

Can Hydrogen Energy Storage Save Germany from Itself?

Germany will serve as a test case to show whether industrialized countries can compete while relying on renewables _TechnologyReview
Germany -- the economic powerhouse of Europe -- has settled upon a risky energy strategy, staking its industrial future on the intermittent and unreliable forms of energy, big wind and big solar. Germany is turning away from nuclear power, and aims to use renewables to generate 33% of its electric power by 2020, and 50% of its electric power by 2050.

Unfortunately for the future of German industry, the intermittency of big wind and big solar will make it almost impossible for German utilities to provide clean, affordable, and reliable power to industry and other consumers, at the high levels of penetration by intermittent renewables that Germany is trying to achieve. Clearly, some form of utility-scale storage would be needed to make such a scheme "work." That is why German planners are considering the "hydrogen option."

The hydrogen option involves using intermittent renewables to convert water into H2 and O2 using electrolysis, then converting the H2 back to electricity when needed, using fuel cells. Unfortunately, the round trip conversion efficiency of the "hydrogen option" is only about 20 or 25% -- in other words, Germans will lose 75% to 80% of the total energy generated by the intermittent renewables. Which is precious little to begin with.

With that information in mind, here is more about the German plan from Technology Review:
If Germany is to meet its ambitious goals of getting a third of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, it must find a way to store huge quantities of electricity in order to make up for the intermittency of renewable energy.

Siemens says it has just the technology: electrolyzer plants, each the size of a large warehouse, that split water to make hydrogen gas. The hydrogen could be used when the wind isn't blowing to generate electricity in gas-fired power plants, or it could be used to fuel cars.

Producing hydrogen is an inefficient way to store energy—about two-thirds of the power is lost in the processes of making the hydrogen and using the hydrogen to generate electricity. But Siemens says it's the only storage option that can achieve the scale that's going to be needed in Germany.

Unlike conventional industrial electrolyzers, which need a fairly steady supply of power to efficiently split water, Siemens's new design is flexible enough to run on intermittent power from wind turbines. It's based on proton-exchange membrane technology similar to that used in fuel cells for cars, which can operate at widely different power levels. The electrolyzers can also temporarily operate at two to three times their rated power levels, which could be useful for accommodating surges in power on windy days.

Germany, which has led the world in installing solar capacity, isn't just concerned about climate change. Its leaders think that in the long term, renewable energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels, so it could give the country an economic advantage, says Miranda Schreurs, director of the Environmental Policy Research Center at the Freie Universität Berlin. Germany will serve as a test case to show whether industrialized countries can compete while relying on renewables. _MITTechnologyReview
It is fascinating that German leaders would be willing to make Germany a "test case" to determine whether industrial countries can compete when dependent upon intermittent renewables on a large scale. It seems that the gas chamber would be faster and more merciful. My first choice would be to allow Germans to choose from the full range of energy options, given full disclosure. But clearly, that is the last thing which leftist green politicians would like to see happen.

It is not too late for Germans to think this problem through, all the way down to the lowest turtle in the stack. To do this, they would have to ask: "Why are we going through all of these painful and expensive contortions? What is the chain of reasoning involved? And how far are we willing to go, to remain subservient to the conclusions reached through this chain of reasoning?"

German politicians rejected nuclear power on the basis of post-Fukushima fears -- even though Germany is not in an earthquake / tsunami zone, and no one died or got sick from radiation exposure post-Fukushima. Germans reject a large-scale coal and natural gas energy future due to fears of anthropogenic global warming catastrophe and carbon hysteria. Even biomass is suspect in that regard, for Germans. And as we have learned, deep geothermal drilling in crystalline rock can cause small earthquakes.

But don't Germans know that wind turbines kill birds and bats, present a deadly danger to livestock, and make nearby humans agitated and nauseated? And solar power wastes huge sections of land in an inefficient production of low voltage DC current better suited for ringing doorbells or charging cellphones than powering German industry?

There nay be something poetic about a wealthy and powerful nation such as Germany, committing energy suicide purportedly for the sake of its ideals. Is a nation that just 75 years ago wanted to rule the entire world, now risking everything to prove a point?

The people are afraid. Leaders are controlling the people, using those fears. But the leaders themselves are being controlled out of their desire to continue to rule. And who controls the leaders? Now, that is an interesting question.

Comparison of other energy storage options



Blogger Scott said...

Leaving aside the issue of hydrogen production efficiency, there's a company in the UK who is promoting a new way of storing hydrogen which I think is a very innovative solution that could be used in existing and future vehicles.

In terms of production - perhaps nuclear energy could be a good power source for hydrogen production.

8:14 AM  
Blogger al fin said...

Hydrogen is a very inefficient form of energy storage, with extremely low energy density.

Now, if you could develop a cheap way of producing metallic hydrogen, we would be well on our way to the stars.

8:13 AM  

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