Hydrogen plant starts storing wind energy in Germany

A plant that converts surplus power from wind turbines into energy-dense hydrogen gas started operating in Germany for the first time this week, the companies involved said.

The power-to-gas system, built by Canada-based Hydrogenics, is part of a major effort to make renewable resources into more reliable sources of energy, said E.ON, a German utility that contracted the plant.

The 2-megawatt facility takes advantage of the wind’s tendency to blow hardest at times when there isn’t a lot of power demand. It uses the excess power from wind turbines to fuel a chemical reaction that produces hydrogen from water, said Daryl Wilson, CEO of Hydrogenics, in an interview.

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The plant then feeds the hydrogen gas into natural gas pipelines, where it mixes with natural gas. The “green gas” displaces natural gas, resulting in less fossil fuels used, Wilson said.

The hydrogen-natural gas mix is available for burning in natural gas turbines to generate electricity when needed, so ultimately more power is generated from renewable sources, he said.

E.ON said the plant operated this week as part of a test in which the facility injected hydrogen gas into natural gas pipelines for the first time.

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The plant is the largest of its kind and cost about $2 million, Wilson said.

While the hydrogen storage technology holds promise, it requires a lot of power to produce the hydrogen gas, said Haresh Kamath, program manager for energy storage at the Electric Power Research Institute.

The process is only able to convert about 50 percent of the excess wind into hydrogen, Kamath said.