$11.4 Million Tonsley Hydrogen Cracker is Crackers

Tonsley Hydrogen electrolyser project is crackers

Siemens may have “ingenuity for life” but calling their hydrogen electrolysis machine a Windgas HaBfurt doesn’t strike me as the most ingenious of names.

The South Australian Government has given development approval to Australian Gas Networks (AGN) for an $11.4 million dollar electrolyser project. It will produce hydrogen in Adelaide’s not at all scenic suburb of Tonsley.

But development approval isn’t the only thing the State Government’s giving.  They’re also contributing $4.9 million in public funding for a project that:

  • is not innovative,
  • requires no new technology (it uses an off-the-shelf electrolyser)
  • will lose money and
  • will harm the environment because it wastes an enormous amount of renewable energy.

I’m certain this is a waste of money.  If the plant operates non-stop at full capacity for 10 years it will produce less than $3 million worth of gas.  In reality it’s likely to produce under half that amount.  The hydrogen produced will be “clean” because AGN will pay for Renewable Energy Certificates for the electricity required. But if that clean electricity was simply fed into the grid it would reduce CO2 emissions by far more.

If AGN and their gassy friends want to pay for an electrolyser I don’t mind.  It’s their money.1  But when they start using our money I become concerned.  I think the South Australian Government made a stupid and obvious blunder because if our $4.9 million was spent on something more cost effective, such as wind or solar power, it would produce far more energy and reduce emissions by more than this hydrogen project.  I also doubt replacing domestic natural gas with hydrogen will ever be environmentally or cost effective, so I don’t think this will lead to worthwhile developments in the future.

I think there are similar problems with the $4.7 million the state is giving to the Port Lincoln hydrogen project, but because of its larger capacity and higher cost, the waste is not as extreme as with the Tonsley project.

It’s A 1.25 Megawatt Electrolyser

The Tonsley Hydrogen Project, which will be located at Hydrogen Park SA2 will use a 1.25 megawatt Siemens electrolyser.  This will use electrical energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen and the hydrogen will be added to the natural gas supply.  It will be up to 5% of gas supplied by volume but only 1.4% by energy.3  This low concentration requires no change in gas infrastructure and consumers shouldn’t notice any difference.

The electrolyser is a permeable membrane type and produced by the giant German company Siemens.  It has the following characteristics:

  • A maximum continuous power draw of 1.25 megawatts of electricity.
  • A maximum peak power draw of 2 megawatts for brief periods.
  • Overall efficiency of 65-70%.
  • A “design life” of over 80,000 hours, which is over 9.1 years.4
  • A capacity factor in normal use that appears to be roughly 50%.

While Siemens says the “design life” of the electrolyser is over 9.1 years of operation, AGN simply says they expect it to operate for more than 5 years.

Capacity Factor

Normally the electrolyser would be used at around half its maximum continuous output, which is a capacity factor of 50%.  Or at least that’s what this graph of one month’s operation from Siemen’s suggests:

hydrogen electrolyser load profile

In normal operation it produces hydrogen when the price of electricity is cheap and shuts down when it’s high, reducing the total cost.  But I’m not going to consider how much has to be paid for electricity.  I’m just going to look at if it’s possible for this project to produce enough gas to pay for its initial $11.4 million price tag or even just the South Australian government’s contribution of $4.9 million.

Tonsley Hydrogen Project Will Lose A Lot Of Money

If we assume the following:

  • The electrolyser has been improved so it operates at an average of 70% efficiency instead of 65-70%.
  • It operates at its full continuous power non-stop for 10 years.

It will produce 276,000 gigajoules worth of hydrogen gas in this time.5

The current price of natural gas in Adelaide at the moment is $8.25 a gigajoule:

Price of natural gas in Adelaide

Adelaide natural gas price (Image: AEMO)

If we assume the average price of gas over the next ten years will be a nice round $10 per gigajoule, then that amount of hydrogen gas will replace natural gas worth $2,760,000.  So, in this extremely optimistic scenario, the value of the gas produced will be less than one quarter the $11.4 million cost of the plant and close to only half the contribution from the people of South Australia.

Obviously, the Tonsley Hydrogen Project isn’t going to make anyone money.  This will be especially true after the costs of electricity, operations and maintenance, and Renewable Energy Certificates are included.  (The cost of the water they’ll electrolyse will be trivial.)

This Project Will Harm The Environment

Burning one gigajoule of natural gas results in 51.4 kilograms of CO2 emissions6 while burning hydrogen emits none.  So replacing 276,000 gigajoules of natural gas with hydrogen will reduce CO2 emissions by 14,200 tonnes.  To make this much hydrogen 109,500,000 kilowatt-hours of clean electricity will be used and this will mostly come from solar energy and wind power generation.

Including emissions from mining, Australian coal generation emits around 1 kilogram of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.  As wind and solar energy generally displaces coal generation7, if the renewable electricity was sent into the grid instead of being used to generate hydrogen it would reduce emissions by around 100,000 tonnes.  That’s 7 times more than using it for the Tonsley Hydrogen Project.

Australia’s grid may be less coal reliant by the time the Tonsley Hydrogen Project is expected to come online in 2025, but even if there is a miracle and all coal power stations are shut down by then and Australia’s only fossil fuel generation comes from natural gas power stations operating at an excellent average efficiency of 50%, sending renewable electricity directly into the grid instead of using it to make hydrogen would still reduce emissions by 40,450 tonnes.  That’s 2.8 times the CO2 emissions that would be avoided by using the electricity to create hydrogen to replace natural gas.

It really doesn’t make sense for the South Australian Government to contribute to a project with such a poor environmental outcome compared to alternatives.  If they don’t have anyone who can point out to them which schemes are bad ideas, such as a 14 year old high school student who is doing physics, then I’m willing to do it for free.

Domestic Hydrogen Makes No Sense

I doubt replacing domestic gas with hydrogen produced from renewable electricity will ever make sense.  Thanks to the laws of physics, it’s impossible to create hydrogen with 100% efficiency. So it makes more sense to use the clean electricity directly.

For example, even a crap air conditioner will be at least 4 times more energy efficient than burning renewably produced hydrogen.  A standard electric hot water system will be over 40% more efficient8.  And like hydrogen production, both home and water heating can be done outside of high electricity price periods.

I know a lot of people like cooking with gas, but I don’t think many people will see the point in paying the daily supply charge to stay connected to the gas grid just for that.  (Maybe I should consider marketing a stove with a built in hydrogen electrolyser so people without a gas connection can cook with gas?  I’m sure if I get it right it won’t be too explodey.)9

It might make sense to produce renewable hydrogen for industry or air travel or rockets to the moon, but I doubt it will ever make economic or environmental sense for households.

Hydrogen Leaks Contribute To Global Warming

Hydrogen is not a greenhouse gas, but because of its indirect effects on the atmosphere it contributes to global warming.  Over a period of 100 years it is estimated to have more than 5 times the warming effect of CO2 per tonne.  It’s not nearly as bad as methane, which is what natural gas is mostly made of, but due to its small size hydrogen is the leakiest of all gases.  Domestic gas pipelines already leak disturbing amounts of methane and hydrogen leaks will, proportionately, be unavoidably greater.  The warming effect of this leaked hydrogen will need to be accounted for when determining its overall environmental benefit.

Not Much Silver Lining

If the Tonsley Hydrogen Project is lucky, they’ll find customers willing to pay more for hydrogen than the energy equivalent price of natural gas.  It could be used for industrial purposes or transport if my zeppelin permit ever comes through.  South Australia is building four electrical condensers, which are big spinny things that stabilize the grid through the power of spinning.  These are likely to use hydrogen to spin things in, as that results in less friction than air, but the amounts required will be tiny.

The trouble with selling hydrogen to industry is when when buyers know you are mostly using it to replace natural gas they won’t want to pay much more than the equivalent cost of natural gas.

It’s also possible they could capture and sell the oxygen the electrolyser will produce to hospitals, welders, and other people with a use for it.  I don’t see this as being a big money earner, but it could help.

Better Options For Your Taxes

At the moment solar farms and large rooftop solar systems cost around $1 per watt before the benefit of Renewable Energy Certificates are included.  If the SA government spent the $4.9 million it is contributing to the Tonsley Hydrogen Project on solar power instead, it would pay for 4.9 megawatts of solar panels.  This would generate around 72,000,000 kilowatt-hours over 10 years, which could reduce emissions by around 70,000 tonnes.  This is more than 20 times the 3,050 tonnes which would be the State Government’s share of emission reductions from the hydrogen project if it was run at a realistic 50% capacity factor for 10 years.  Since solar farms generally have project lifespans of 25-30 years it would continue to supply clean energy for many years after this.

Alternatively, since the hydrogen produced will only be green because Renewable Energy Certificates will be bought, the state government could just buy $4.9 million worth of these certificates.  Estimates vary, but by the time the hydrogen project begins production Large-scale Generation Certificates (LGCs) are likely to cost around 1 cent or less each per kilowatt-hour.  If they cost 1 cent they could potentially avoid over 400,000 tonnes of emissions.  So directly buying renewable energy certificates could be over 100 times more effective at reducing emissions than contributing to the Tonsley Hydrogen Project, although the exact amount will depend on how filthy our grid is in the future.

Wasting Money Won’t Make Other Countries Buy Hydrogen

I can understand Australian Gas Networks paying for a money-losing project so they can point to it and say, “Look!  Domestic gas networks have a future!”  But I don’t understand why South Australians are forking over money for their PR.  It’s a huge environmental negative compared to simply sending the clean electricity it requires into the grid.  Also, because of those pesky laws of physics, it also seems unlikely that domestic hydrogen will ever make environmental or economic sense, so I don’t see it ever paying itself off with worthwhile future developments.

I know the government is hoping we will be able to export hydrogen overseas in the future, but we can’t magically make that happen by wasting state funds on a project that is never going to pay for itself and unlikely to lead to anything worthwhile.

All we can do is sit back and hope that Korea, Japan and other countries are stupid enough to go in for hydrogen in a big way and buy it from Australia.

Footnotes

  1. Well, legally it’s their money.  If you feel like changing the law so it’s not, don’t let me stop you.  Just note there may be one or two unintended consequences.
  2. Worst theme park ever.  We kept passing out from displaced oxygen, the low atomic weight of the atmosphere whisked the heat out of our bodies, and everyone spoke in ridiculous squeaky voices.
  3. While hydrogen has more energy per kilogram than natural gas, which is mostly methane, because hydrogen is the lightest gas it only has 29% as much energy per litre.  This means people in the Tonsley area will need to receive a discount on their gas bills, otherwise they will be ripped off as gas meters measure volume.
  4. As this is a commercial product it’s not covered by Australian Consumer Guarantees, so saying it has a “design life” of over 80,000 hours is not the same as warranting it for that long.
  5. With 70% efficiency it will produce 3.15 gigajoules of gas per hour as there are 3.6 gigajoules in a megawatt-hour of energy.
  6. One gigajoule of natural gas weighs 18.7 kilograms.  It is mostly methane, which is 75% carbon by weight.  This makes for 14 kilograms of carbon that will combine with 37.4 kilograms of oxygen when burned to make 51.4 kilograms of CO2.
  7. When coal generators decide how much energy they will bid into the wholesale electricity market and at what price, the expected amount of solar and wind generation are factors they take into consideration.  The inflexibility of coal generation means renewables tend to take a greater toll on coal than gas.
  8. A heat pump hot water system will be even better
  9. There is also the issue that hydrogen burns with an almost invisible flame, which is a safety issue.  The accepted method of detecting hydrogen flames is to wave a stick in front of you and see if it catches on fire.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. Erik Christiansen says

    Just adding the hydrogen to reticulated gas supplies does appear to be suboptimal. If it were instead used to replace fossil fuel for vehicles, as in hydrogen powered cars, then we’d advance the transition away from fossil fuels in a more substantial way, I figure. Mind, you, more EV charging stations would beat that option too, if battery recycling is not too great an energy hit, and battery capacity decay over service life doesn’t cause discards every five years.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Warranties seem pretty good for EV batteries. In Australia Tesla offers 8 years or 160,000 km for their Model 3 with a minimum of 70% of it’s original capacity and I think it’s 8 years unlimited kilometers for their Model S. So I expect someone buying an electric car now will be right for 10 years or more with typical use.

    • If you work it out – the 50kWh standard range Plus, being conservative and say 6kms a kWh, that represents about 300km a cycle. So after the equivalent of a 1,000 full cycles you’ve done 300,000kms and assuming you look after the battery and charge mostly between 20% and 80% you can probably expect to get more like 1500 cycles before getting even close to 70% SOH.

  2. The future of electric cars may not be batteries.
    One of the important aspects of energy is it’s portability.
    Trams and trains pick up their electricity as they go. Cars, Trucks and Planes need to carry it with them.
    Batteries are heavy and have a penalty every time you move them and until we have a Swap and go system, they take a long time to charge.
    This leaves Hydrogen as the last green hope for cars. So, provided that Hydrogen is produced from surplus renewable’s and sea water, I am OK with it. Produce your hydrogen when the sun shines or the wind is blowing. Use the oxygen produced for medical purposes.

    But this isn’t for cars is it……

    • Steve Hathaway says

      The government will like that model since for Hydrogen Fuel-Cells the consumer will have to visit a bowser to refuel. Excise collection is then simple as the taxes are charged on delivery.

      The downside is that it perpetuates the consumer being ripped-off by the same fuel cartel as they are now. The same pirates selling a different product.

      BTW burning Hydrogen as a gas creates water vapour which is a greenhouse gas so using it for domestic gas is probably as bad as using Methane.

      • Nicholas Reid says

        I doubt if the water vapour is a problem. Water vapour is an endogenous variable, which means that the amount of water vapour in the air is determined by the temperature. If more vapour is put into the air, at a given temperature, it will mostly just precipitate, as rain, before it has had time to raise the temperature much.

        • I am not familiar with Fuel cells,

          My NASA knowledge is that their waste product is pure water. I did not know that a fuel cells run hot enough to produce steam.
          The beauty of a fuel cell is that unlike combustion engines, there is minimal waste heat produced in the conversion from chemical to electrical energy.
          That said, from my fuzzy year 12 Chemistry memory, the “Cracking” process is only 15% efficient, so if you look at total energy utilisation, it may not be the final solution.

          “Bring On the Era of Super Caps!”

    • Geoff Miell says

      Tim,
      You state:

      “Batteries are heavy and have a penalty every time you move them and until we have a Swap and go system, they take a long time to charge.”

      Do you think 20 minutes charging time every 200-300 kms is such a major penalty (with current Tesla and Porsche technology)? While charging, the driver has a break, as is recommended every 2 hours to reduce driver fatigue.
      See: https://thedriven.io/2019/10/15/porsche-stuns-with-cheaper-and-longer-range-new-electric-taycan/

      You then state:
      “This leaves Hydrogen as the last green hope for cars.”

      According to European environment group Transport & Environment, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are three times more energy efficient than hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (HFCEVs), and power-to-liquid hydrocarbon fuel internal combustion engine vehicles (P2L-ICEs) are even less energy efficient.

      Energy generation to road wheels energy efficiency:
      BEVs: _ _ _ _73%;
      HFCEVs: _ _ 22%;
      P2L-ICEs: _ 13%.
      See: https://twitter.com/transenv/status/899976235794788352?lang=en
      Also: https://www.thedrive.com/tech/14821/electric-cars-are-more-than-3-times-more-efficient-than-fuel-cell-vehicles-study-says

      IMO, the energy penalty (and therefore ‘fuel’/energy cost) for HFCEVs, compared with BEVs is very high.

      Perhaps a plug-in BE / HFCE hybrid vehicle is the way to go for some users? Most of the time the vehicle runs on the plug-in charged battery for short journeys about town, and for the odd long-distance journeys, the HFCE system operates. The other question is where are the hydrogen refueling stations? Until there is a reasonable population of hydrogen refueling stations, HFCEVs are an impractical proposition.
      See: https://www.caradvice.com.au/695421/mercedes-benz-glc-f-cell-now-available-in-europe/
      Also: https://www.toyota.com.au/news/toyota-australia-extends-hydrogen-mirai-fcev-loan-program

      I also wonder what the purchase price of HFCEVs and operating costs will be compared with BEVs. Will it be economically warranted for most people to enable range flexibility? IMO, it’s too early to tell, but interesting to see where it will lead. Unfortunately, it seems to me the energy penalty appears fundamental, and is unlikely to improve significantly – we’ll see.

  3. Couple of points:

    POINT 1 Look at:

    https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/east-coast-gas-prices-need-to-follow-export-prices-down

    30 May 2019
    High gas prices remain a critical issue for domestic gas users and could see more businesses move or close in the east coast, according to the Gas Inquiry 2017‑20 Interim Report released by the ACCC today.

    The report shows that most commercial and industrial Australian gas users will pay more than $9/GJ for gas this year, and some more than $11/GJ.

    Speaking at the 2019 APPEA Oil and Gas Conference in Brisbane today, ACCC Chair Rod Sims said the fact wholesale gas prices remain so high means many Australian manufacturers are struggling to compete internationally.

    “Commercial and industrial gas users have been telling us for some time that at those gas prices, their operations are not sustainable in the medium to longer term,” Mr Sims said.

    POINT 2 OK, the first point shows why federal and state governments need to do something to get gas prices down. A better approach would be for the feds to force states to allow immediate development of offshore gas reserves (looking at you, Victoria !), or lose them.

    Gas isn’t just used for burning to make electricity. It’s used in lots of installed equipment, and can’t be easily, cheaply replaced. Companies need cheaper gas or they’ll go abroad – as we have seen with this year’s One Steel investment in Ohio, rather than in Australia.

    Is this a good way of getting prices down? Dunno, I’l like to see the cost-benefit paper for the proposal, but good luck to anyone trying to get a copy of that ! It’s probably filed in the same place as the one for the NBN

    • Ronald Brakels says

      East coast natural gas prices rose because an LNG export terminal was built in Gladstone. As no gas was reserved for domestic use this caused natural gas prices to rise towards international levels (less cost of liquification and transport). Domestic gas prices could be artificially lowered but this is problematic if your goal is to attract foreign investment. This is because if you want foreign money to come into the country you can achieve that by simply selling the gas overseas.

      • Ronald, you are on the right track, but you are missing the point.

        Before the LNG trains were built at Gladstone to liquefy and export gas from the north-west shelf, there was no commercially satisfactory means to export Australia’s natural gas. The gas was used within the country, sold at about $4 per giga-joule. The gas companies made money, Australian industry had cheap gas, all sweet. Yes ?
        Now we have the LNG trains, there is the capacity to liquefy and export all the available gas, so that’s what the operators do. Why wouldn’t they, when the world gas price is much higher than $4 ?

        I have read somewhere (sorry, can’t remember where) that the other LNG-exporting counties insist that the gas producers satisfy domestic demand at a cheap rate, then they are free to export the rest at whatever price they can get. The federal government failed to do this when giving approving the exports. That’s why we are where we are.

        The federal government could say to Santos, or Woodside, or Shell, or BP etc “here is a gas field in Victoria. We will GIVE you the right to develop it and sell the gas domestically at $4 /GJ. You can still make money on that” Not as much as if they exported it, but it would still be a nice little earner for one of them. Good for the gas company, good for Australian industry.

        Don’t conflate saving the environment with saving Australian industry. They are two quite different issues. This is about the second, not about the first.

        It’s nothing to do with attracting foreign investment to export MORE gas; it’s about making available cheap gas for Australian industry. Hydrogen might help, but it’s not the best approach, in my opinion.

        • Geoff Miell says

          OldFogey,
          You state:
          “Don’t conflate saving the environment with saving Australian industry. They are two quite different issues.”

          Is that so, OldFogey? Where do you get your food and water from, OldFogey?

          Destroy the favourable environment that enables the production of your food and water, and you soon find food and water becomes scarce. Scarce supplies of food and water usually mean food and water prices rise. If you can’t afford or access adequate supplies of food and water, then you can’t afford to live. Destroy a favourable environment, and people struggle to survive … or die. No people – no industry. IMO, you can’t separate saving the environment from saving Australian industry.

          I suggest you please see the video of the interview, particularly from time interval 10:14 through to 12:31:
          https://www.abc.net.au/news/programs/the-business/2019-07-08/extended-interview-with-ian-dunlop/11290026

          Industry, and other human activities, through human-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is raising the global temperatures of planet Earth. The global average temperature has risen about 1.1°C above pre-industrial age (and polar regions have experienced significantly more temperature rises). Continue business-as-usual with continued, increasing GHG emissions means it’s likely we will see global average temperature rise to 1.5°C as early as 2030, 2°C before 2050, and 4 – 4.5°C rise by 2100.

          At 4°C temperature rise, less than a billion people would likely survive. What happens to the other 6.7+ billion people? Is that a future you would wish on your children and grandchildren (if you have any, or anyone else’s), OldFogey? Do you want to take that risk?
          See: http://www.climatecodered.org/2019/08/at-4c-of-warming-would-billion-people.html

          You also state:
          “…it’s about making available cheap gas for Australian industry.”

          Producing more Australian-sourced gas will not lower domestic gas prices in Australia. Australia is irrevocably linked to global gas prices through its LNG export terminals.
          See: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-26/ogge-the-great-gas-crisis-swindle/4982664/
          Also: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/sep/29/the-high-price-of-australian-gas-is-low-supply-really-to-blame

          Evidence I see indicates global gas production will likely peak in the 2020s.

          Natural gas proved Reserves-to-production (R/P) estimated at the end of 2018 (per “BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 68th edition”, published June 2019):
          • WORLD: _ _ 50.9 years;
          • USA: _ _ _ _ 14.3 years (ranked #1 producer at 21.5% share in 2018);
          • Russian Fed.: 58.2 years (ranked #2 producer at 17.3% share in 2018);
          • Iran: _ _ _ _ 133.3 years (ranked #3 producer at 6.2% share in 2018);
          • Canada: _ _ _ 10.0 years (ranked #4 producer at 4.8% share in 2018);
          • Qatar: _ _ _ 140.7 years (ranked #5 producer at 4.5% share in 2018);
          • China: _ _ _ _ 37.6 years (ranked #6 producer at 4.2% share in 2018);
          • Australia: _ _ 18.4 years (ranked #7 producer at 3.4% share in 2018);
          • Norway: _ _ _ 13.3 years (ranked #8 producer at 3.1% share in 2018);
          • Saudi Arabia: 52.6 years (ranked #9 producer at 2.9% share in 2018);
          • Algeria: _ _ _ 47.0 years (ranked #10 producer at 2.4% share in 2018).

          USA’s (and Canada’s) shale gas production boom is unlikely to last much longer. When US gas production declines then global gas prices will likely escalate. See: “SHALE REALITY CHECK: Drilling Into the U.S. Government’s Rosy Projections for Shale Gas & Tight Oil Production Through 2050” by J. David Hughes at https://shalebubble.org/

          Australia’s proved gas reserves (at only 1.2% of global share in 2018) are relatively insignificant and no amount of increased Australian gas production will likely impact on global (or domestic) gas prices.

          IMO, Australian industry needs to find affordable alternatives to natural gas, and fast – global gas supplies are likely to become scarce soon.

          And that’s not the only problem. IMO, Australia needs to be also rapidly reducing its dependency on petroleum oil-based fuels.
          Posted today: https://crudeoilpeak.info/uncertainties-following-the-abqaiq-attack-have-shrunk-the-worlds-safe-oil-reserves-by-around-half-part-1

  4. Ronald, your sums all make sense, but at this early stage of a possible shift to hydrogen for a range of uses, it often makes sense for governments to spend our money. This money can be a catalyst for change, an investment in training and knowledge transfer, a way of gaining public understanding and support and much more. Similar sums could probably have been done when the government invested in the early stages of the internet, but in hindsight a pretty good spend of government money.

    I’m interested in your view of hydrogen for so called seasonal storage. (I agree gas companies blending hydrogen into natural gas is probably a sophisticated greenwash strategy). As I understand it to move to a 100% renewable grid, we will need substantial storage, well beyond what batteries and pumped hydro can deliver. We will also end up with a peak capacity of a lot more than 100% of demand, and using the excess to make hydrogen seems logical.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      The economics of seasonal storage don’t work out at the moment. Except for hydroelectricity. Currently it seems much cheaper to overbuild renewable capacity than attempt to store energy for months at a time. We can also keep existing gas generators around, use them if required, and then capture the CO2 released from the atmosphere and sequester it. Biomass can also be stored, although it tends to be costly unless it uses convenient waste products.

      But, if we do end up with periods of time where electricity prices are at or close to zero, it makes sense to do something with that energy. Low efficiency electrolysis is an option. Unfortunately, high efficiency electrolysis has high capital costs at the moment.

      • Geoff Miell says

        Ronald,
        You state:

        “We can also keep existing gas generators around, use them if required, and then capture the CO2 released from the atmosphere and sequester it.”

        Published last month by Energy Watch Group is a report by Thure Traber & Hans-Josef Fell titled “Natural Gas Makes No Contribution to Climate Protection: Switching from coal and oil to natural gas accelerates climate change through alarming methane emissions”. The Abstract includes:

        “Natural gas is often presented as a climate-friendly alternative for the electricity and heating sectors and as a “bridging technology” with a key role on the way to a sustainable energy system. If, however, methane emissions are considered in addition to carbon dioxide emissions, it can be seen that a climate protection strategy based on natural gas has the exact opposite effect. Savings on carbon dioxide during on-site combustion are only achieved by significantly increasing the methane emissions in the entire chain. Overall, the switch from coal and oil to natural gas in power plants and heating systems even increases the greenhouse effect of energy consumption by around 40%. At the same time, this creates obstacles to renewable energy sources, prevents a sustainable, emission-free economic system and blocks effective climate protection. Despite a simultaneous commitment to Paris’ climate protection targets, which are incompatible with increased natural gas use, many governments continue to support the highly climate-damaging natural gas with subsidies and indirect support measures.”
        See: http://energywatchgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/EWG_Natural_Gas_Study_September_2019.pdf

        The report indicates more gas consumption is not the answer – it makes dangerous climate change worse. And “sequester it” how?

        IMO, we need to be planning and deploying timely and adequate capacities of low carbon-emissions ‘dispatchable’ generation to complement increasing wind and solar-PV:
        – pumped-hydro;
        – Concentrating solar thermal with energy storage;
        – batteries, etc.
        See: https://arena.gov.au/assets/2018/10/Comparison-Of-Dispatchable-Renewable-Electricity-Options-ITP-et-al-for-ARENA-2018.pdf

  5. The Bigger Picture says

    SA already has an appropriate technology for storage of energy in thermal storage. See 1414D’s storage options.

  6. Hydrogen can be used to make synthetic fuels, fertiliser, and to produce green steel, among other things. If we keep building solar plants, the midday electricity supply is going to overwhelm all our options for storing supply, including domestic hot water storage.

    Also, hydrogen leaking from suburban gas pipes displaces methane leaks from those pipes (look up “partial pressure” on Wikipedia). Since methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than hydrogen, this is probably an environmental saving (I haven’t run the numbers on that though).

    If we continue to have episodes of negative electricity price in the middle of the day, hydrogen production makes good sense.

  7. Des Scahill says

    There’s a bit more to the project than is immediately obvious

    This ABC news article :
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-12/hydrogen-power-plant-port-lincoln/9422022

    indicates that associated with the hydrogen production is ‘…fertiliser and chemical production would help the farming and aquaculture sectors.’ methane along with other ‘chemicals’ is a byproduct of the manufacture of those two categories

    The actual methane waste might be as much as 100 times higher than we’ve been led to believe according to this article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190606183254.htm

    Here is a quote from the above article:

    ‘Using a Google Street View car equipped with a high-precision methane sensor, the researchers discovered that methane emissions from ammonia fertilizer plants were 100 times higher than the fertilizer industry’s self-reported estimate. They also were substantially higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate for all industrial processes in the United States.

    “We took one small industry that most people have never heard of and found that its methane emissions were three times higher than the EPA assumed was emitted by all industrial production in the United States,” said John Albertson, co-author and professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It shows us that there’s a huge gap between a priori estimates and real-world measurements.”

    I’ll draw attention to the point that ‘one small industry that most people had never heard of.. ‘ turned out to be producing in total, three times the estimated methane emitted by ALL industrial production in the USA

    Another aspect worthy of consideration is – where exactly is the water which is to be used as input for the hydrogen production going to be coming from?

    If it’s drawn from the aquifers, which seems most likely, it will potentially add to the already known potential subsidence of Adelaide and surrounds which you can read about here:
    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08120099308728087

    Any water used by the hydrogen plant will no longer be available for drinking purposes either.

    I can understand the SA Gov wanting to create jobs, but it seems to me they could achieve that by (say) building a water desalination plant instead, which would also provide some needed drinkable water supply security.

    • As far as I can see, methane is only produced from ammonia plants if the initial feedstock is natural gas https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ammonia_production. If hydrogen (produced from electrolysis) is used instead, the process just uses hydrogen and nitrogen (extracted from the air), and there are no methane by-products https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haber_process.

      So if it’s true that conventional ammonia production emits 100 times the methane than previously thought, then electrolysed hydrogen is the saviour here. It won’t just displace CO2 emissions when burnt in upgraded natural gas, it will displace much more potent methane emissions when used in fertiliser factories.

      Does this give you pause for thought, Des and Ronald? I agree H2 plants should not use groundwater. I would hope they could run on ordinary seawater instead.

Speak Your Mind

*

GET THE SOLARQUOTES WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
%d bloggers like this: