E.ON is developing a pilot plant in Falkenhagen in the north east of Germany to convert power from wind energy into hydrogen which can then be stored in the country’s gas grid. The company is investing over €5 million on the pilot plant and further research into this innovative technology.
Using power from renewable energy sources, the plant will produce about 360 cubic metres of hydrogen per hour from 2013 onwards through electrolysis. The hydrogen will be fed into the Ontras gas pipeline system and be used like normal natural gas. This makes the gas grid a storage system for power from weather-dependent renewables.
The company said in a press statement last week that it is committed to “intensively testing the technology which has huge potential”. At present, up to 5 percent hydrogen can be added to the natural gas grid without any problems, and in the medium term experts expect up to 15 percent. “This means that today’s entire renewable power output could be stored in the German gas grid. Demand for capacity on this scale will however only arise over the next decades, when most of generated power is coming from renewable energies,” says E.ON.
"We need new storage capacities so that we can further increase the share of weather-dependent wind power in our generation portfolio in coming years. Using the existing gas infrastructure to store hydrogen is a promising approach in the long run, enabling us to combine our strengths as a power and gas company," comments Professor Klaus-Dieter Maubach, member of the E.ON AG Board of Management responsible for Technology & Development.
If Germany increases the share of fluctuating wind and solar energy in power generation in the years ahead, the power available will at times exceed demand and bring the power grid to the limits of its capacity. E.ON is therefore investing in technology to store this excess power. At the moment, the focus is on enlarging the capacity of pumped-storage power stations. For instance, EON intends to extend the pumped-storage power station at Edersee in the federal state of Hesse and - together with its partners - build a new plant on the German-Austrian border.
Extolling the economic benefits of wind
Elsewhere, E.ON released new figures demonstrating the benefit offshore wind brings to the UK economy last week. The report based on E.ON's Robin Rigg offshore wind farm in the Solway Firth highlights that 32% of the development, manufacture and construction for the site was carried out by UK-based business. "This shows that British industry and jobs do benefit substantially from offshore wind investment but that more can be done to increase UK content further,” said Dave Rogers, UK Regional Director for Renewables at E.ON.” Thursday's announcement by DECC on the proposed levels of support for offshore wind should help give the sector the confidence it needs for continuing investment in UK based facilities and training and encourage more overseas suppliers to locate in the UK."
E.ON owns and operates three offshore wind farms in UK waters. The UK's first offshore wind farm near Blyth in Northumberland, Scroby Sands off the coast of Great Yarmouth and Robin Rigg in the Solway Firth. It is currently carrying out detailed environmental studies on its proposed Rampion site off the Sussex Coast and has been granted planning approval to build the 230-MW Humber Gateway offshore wind farm, which would be located approximately 8 kilometres off the Holderness Coast in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
The company is also a partner in the London Array, which will be the world's largest offshore wind farm when built. Offshore and onshore work with partners DONG Energy and Masdar on the project is now well underway, with construction on the first phase of the project expected to be complete by the end of 2012.