Green Hydrogen: An Energy Storage Solution for the Western U.S.

Reader Contribution by Ted Flanigan and Ecomotion
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In 2025, the Intermountain Power Plant will convert from an 1,800 MW coal-fired power plant to an 840 MW combined cycle gas turbine capable of using a blend of natural gas and 30% green hydrogen in 2025. Photo byGreen Hydrogen Coalitionv

Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be used in many applications. I learn about recent advances for its use in aviation, in trucking, and for mining operations. I thank the Green Hydrogen Coalition for expanding my brain. The group had a recent web call I attended, and where I was impressed by one single notion: That Utah’s salt caverns could become the Western United States’ centralized energy storage site.

A study commissioned by Mitsubishi Power, and completed by Magnum Energy, found that one salt cavern explored could hold 150 Gigawatt-hours of green hydrogen storage. That’s 100 times the aggregate amount of storage throughout the United States today. Utah can cost-effectively serve the region in the storage and delivery of green hydrogen, as well as renewable electricity.

Energy Storage: The Insurance for Renewable Energy

I learn a new word, a German word: dunkelflaute. It refers to the fear, or angst, of having inadequate sunshine or wind to maintain a viable supply of renewable energy. Lost a bit in translation, it speaks to being in a “dark lull” and the anxiety of it all. Dunkelflaute flags the enormous challenge of fully integrating renewables into the grid and getting to 100 percent.

How can we ride through “short periods” of up to 60 minutes without generation (when there’s no sun or wind), “medium periods” that last for a few hours to several days, and “long periods” that can be up to two weeks in cases of very unfavorable, and unusual, weather? Like insurance policies of any kind, we need to ensure enough power in the worst-case scenario. That spells lots of energy storage.

California is the leading U.S. energy-storage market. Most of the capacity in place to date is 4-hour storage, much used for peak clipping. Now we have a new acronym: LDES for “Long-Duration Energy Storage”, defined as storage with 6 or more hours of energy.

Can Hydrogen Be Used for Energy Storage?

The California shift to a renewable future has already experienced costly curtailments of renewable energy systems — when the sun is shining, the wind is blowing, but the grid can’t take that much capacity. These are the best times to electrolyze water using this “excess power” and to create green hydrogen, storing power in the form of hydrogen for later use. Hydrogen can then be called upon to respond to California’s infamous “duck curve” by fueling carbon-free peaking capacity, meeting the large ramps in utilities’ net load curve as the sun goes down.

A final question: What is the biggest barrier to hydrogen in the West? Its answer struck me: getting people to recognize that green hydrogen is a form of energy storage, just like batteries.

Furthermore, planning decisions ought not be based on lowest-cost form of storage, but highest-value storage. Someone who wants the lowest-cost watch gets a Timex. Someone who wants to maximize the value of a time piece gets an Apple watch with considerable functionality. Like the Apple watch, hydrogen brings a breadth of applications and benefits. It can be used to decarbonize not only the power sector, but industry, heating, and transportation. And the West is leading the charge.

Ted FlaniganrunsEcoMotion, a California-based company with the mission of the cost-effective greening of cities, corporations, and campuses. He has dedicated his career to finding win-win solutions that create financial and environmental benefits while fostering a sustainable society. Connect with Ted onFacebookandTwitter, read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWSposts here.

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