From electricity to hydrogen: European renewable energy development enters a new phase

2019-04-06

Last month, Denmark's largest energy company, Ørsted, said it recommended that wind farms in the North Sea convert some of the excess electricity into natural gas. The current flowing in from the sea will be supplied to the onshore electrolysis plant, which decomposes the water to produce clean burning hydrogen, which is a by-product. This will provide a new set of customers who need energy, not electricity. This will put some pressure on the European grid as it is working to cope with the growing number of renewable energy sources that are difficult to handle.


Converting clean electricity into high-energy gases such as hydrogen or methane is an old idea, and with the surge in renewable energy generation, the idea is making a comeback. This is because the gas can be stored in the natural gas distribution system to compensate for the instability of wind and solar energy. They can also provide concentrated energy to replace fossil fuels in vehicles and industry. While many US energy experts believe that this “energy to gas” vision may be too expensive, some of Europe's largest industrial companies are working hard to achieve this.


European power equipment manufacturers are expected to have a series of renewable hydrogen projects. For example, Ørsted said in January that all gas turbines will pass up to 20% of hydrogen fuel testing next year, which burns faster than methane-rich fuel. At the same time, gas distributors said they would use hydrogen to help them completely replace European gas supplies by 2050.


The conversion of electricity to natural gas is emerging in Europe due to a more consistent and proactive climate policy in the region.


“In order to meet climate protection goals, we need more renewable energy. Green hydrogen is considered to be one of the most promising ways to achieve energy transformation,” said Armin Schnettler, head of Siemens Energy and Electronics Research.


There are more than 45 demonstration projects in Europe aimed at improving electricity-gas technology and its integration with grids and natural gas networks. The main focus is on electrolysis cells that convert electrolysis to hydrogen more efficiently, lastingly and cheaply.


These projects are also expanding various technologies. Early installations converted hundreds of kilowatts of electricity, but manufacturers such as Siemens are now building equipment that can convert 10 megawatts, which will generate enough hydrogen to heat 3,000 homes per year or fuel 100 buses. According to Ernst & Young, a financial consulting firm.