What It Takes for the Storage Market to Take Off? — Hydrogen Technology Possibilities and Challenges
By Danial Naqvi
The energy storage market is diversifying fast, with more emphasis on renewable sources and efficient systems. Fons Jansen, Strategic Advisor of Smart Grids at Enexis recently emphasised to Front Group that conventional oil and gas energy producers will not have a major influence with regards the future of energy. The use of hydrogen as an energy source is an innovative arena for discovery of energy futures. Whilst challenges remain in application to gas networks, hydrogen could provide solutions to enable diversification of network storage capabilities.
Capabilities of Hydrogen Technology
Hydrogen mechanics are already being applied to commercial industries, with plans to expand further when cost of developing such technologies reduces. Transportation networks and housing are two areas where consumers will be able to see applicable hydrogen uses.
Mark Meyrick, Head of Smart Grids at Ecotricity — believes in the capability for hydrogen to power “bus fleets” and advocates for “more distribution points for cars” when he spoke in a webinar with Front Group. This resounding support for diversified hydrogen systems across transportation networks is backed up by efforts in the UK to enable hydrogen-powered fuel cells in bus networks.
The Aberdeen Hydrogen Bus Project deploys 10 buses across their structure which now sits as the largest in Europe. Work towards expanding this initiative across the world is taking shape, London has taken steps to slowly introduce hydrogen-powered buses to its streets. This provides a platform for a positive outlook to hydrogen energy futures, especially within transportation systems.
Housing might seem rather obscure to be linked to hydrogen technology. Jansen explains that the Netherlands have had “problems with natural gas” leading to a “decrease in natural gas production”. Given that hydrogen can be injected at levels of up to twenty percent to gas systems — Jansen says houses should be optimised to be able utilise this hybrid combination rather than to rid of natural gas outlets in Dutch homes.
Hydrogen houses are a reality today. USA and Thailand host two of the first fully hydrogen-powered residences. Supplementing solar power to pack an hydrogen energy storage system, electrolysers use sunlight energy to power split water into hydrogen and oxygen — creating hydrogen gas from this process. This innovative approach is zero-waste and zero-emission which provides an environmentally-sustainable industry for where energy actors can invest.
Challenges for Hydrogen’s Future
Although hydrogen future seems promising given its outreach in two sectors already, there are some problems that relate to monetary difficulties and the unknown capabilities of hydrogen technology too.
Hydrogen is a new way to look at energy futures. It’s a scenario that therefore has little research and while the novelty of exploring new possibilities excites players, the cost of hydrogen technology makes advancements difficult. Subsidies from governments and the introduction of schemes to make hydrogen power more affordable has been launched in the UK last year, in the form of investment in the hydrogen car industry.
For this reason, Jansen sees this as hydrogen’s biggest challenge. In terms of storage and extraction, hydrogen is also expensive. Science has not reached such a stage where conversion and efficient extraction is viable.
Efficiency and Viability
Convincing energy players to invest in hydrogen and other diversified sources will prove difficult given scepticism over efficiency and viability. Meyrick says that “different dynamics” will play a key role in understanding whether efficiency and viability can be achieved through hydrogen technology. Diversity in solar, wind and other renewables may take precedence over efforts to search for hydrogen answers. Efficiency for hydrogen-powered cars sits at twenty-five percent while electric-powered cars sits upwards of sixty percent.
While efforts remain focused on creating sustainable solutions to energy, the industry still needs to survive financially. Meyrick therefore suggests instead of selling hydrogen at a negative on the exchange to look towards injecting it into gas networks as a short-term solution. Whereas this solution may instigate hydrogen consumption by energy players, the future is still unclear to the full potential of this technology.
In conclusion, investors have started to take hydrogen more seriously. Transportation and housing are two industries which have taken large leaps to move hydrogen onto the radars of other sectors. Problems surrounding the cost of production and storage still remain as well as the slow advancement in technology. Whilst experts still contest efficiency of conversion and output, viability and extended progression seem to still puzzle the market. Hydrogen has a long way to go to be introduced as a solution to the world’s energy crisis.
Hydrogen technology possibilities and challenges as part of the energy storage theme will be discussed further at the upcoming Flexible Energy Systems and Storage Forum on 22nd-23rd March 2018 in London. The event will bring industry experts from the energy sector with speakers from National Grid, E.On, Enel, UK Power Networks and EDF as well as many more representatives from appropriate players in this field. Find out more here: https://front-group.co.uk/energystorage/brochure/