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Hydrogenics and Enbridge jointly to develop utility-scale renewable energy “storage” via natural gas; “Power-to-Gas”

30 April 2012

Hydrogenics Corporation, a developer and manufacturer of hydrogen generation and fuel cell products, recently entered into an agreement with Enbridge Inc. jointly to develop utility-scale energy storage in North America. This relationship also includes an equity investment of CA$5.0 million in Hydrogenics. The collaboration will bring together Hydrogenics’ expertise in water electrolysis with Enbridge’s ownership and operation of natural gas pipeline networks and renewable energy generation.

The parties will work together to develop utility scale energy storage projects within Enbridge’s North American footprint. Hydrogenics will have the opportunity to participate in up to 50% ownership in a build-own-operate model for energy storage services.

With “Power-to-Gas”, the hydrogen produced during periods of excess renewable generation will be injected into the existing natural gas pipeline network, proportionally increasing the renewable energy content in natural gas pipelines for essentially the operating cost of the electrolyzer. Small quantities of hydrogen can be manageable in existing natural gas pipeline networks.

With the significant scale of the natural gas pipeline network, these same quantities of hydrogen have an impact on electricity energy storage potential. The natural gas pipeline network represents a vast energy storage system which already exists. The utility scale energy storage leverages existing natural gas pipeline and storage assets to enable improved operability for the electrical system. Furthermore, the economics are further improved by leveraging existing gas generators to bring this renewable energy back to the electrical grid where, and when, it is needed most, the partners say.

The collaboration between Hydrogenics and Enbridge will initially focus on the deployment of utility scale energy storage in Ontario with the opportunity to expand into Enbridge’s operations elsewhere.

Under the agreement, Enbridge Inc. purchased from Hydrogenics 1,082,251 common shares for an aggregate purchase price of CA$5,000,000 (CA $4.62 per share).

The agreement provides, among other things, that Enbridge will have certain participation rights and, subject to certain ownership requirements, will have the right to appoint one non-voting observer to the board of directors of Hydrogenics.

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Its interesting, but you could just replace the NG used in building heating with high COP airsource heat pumps. With a simple control logic to run at a higher power when more renewable energy is available they would be a good fit for wind power when most energy is generated in the winter, day to day generation can vary but is predictable a few days in advance

Brilliant idea to store H2 in the existing NG pipe network.

It lowers the volumetric heating value of the delivered gas; the customers wouldn't be getting as much as they were before, so they'd be due a discount.

As for "brilliant", I'd wait until some experience accrues.  Even one explosion due to hydrogen escaping where methane would have remained tightly bottled up would put a different spin on this matter.

This might be better used to make hydrogen for specific purposes, such as for Hythane as vehicle fuel.

I'd be interested to see a comparison of the conversion losses of this scheme compared to, say, compressed air storage. Wind turbine power to H2 to combined cycle gas power plant--would that be something like 0.5 * 0.6 or 30% round trip? Expensive storage--much better to displace fossil generation directly with renewable electricity when feasible. It does address the problem of renewable intermittency, however.

Why not treat renewable generation as the preferred source and just throttle-back fossil generation during periods of excess renewable generation? Or "wheel" the excess off to regions with lower renewable output?

You could also store power by manufacturing ammonia using air and excess electricity, but the H2 mixed in with the NG supply is far simpler.

Using the existing NG infrastructure to distribute H2 has been suggested before.. supposedly there are no leakage issues at up to a 20% H2 mixed, but the lower heating value for the end user would have to be accounted for.

I dont care about the efficiency too much (within reasonable limits), its using otherwise wasted power.

Unless the electricity is free, it probably is not a good idea. The production cost of hydrogen, the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, is about 70 times the electric rate. This does not count capital costs or maintenance. Here in the midwest overnight electric rates are about $0.02/kwh, or the hydrogen would cost about $1.40 for the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline. Multiply that by about 8 to get the cost of a MMBtu, or about $11.20. This is about double the cost of natural gas delivered to the home, and I was very generous in calculating the cost of hydrogen. Rather than focus on "brilliant" ideas, why not have a carbon "fee and dividend" that gradually increases with time. The market place and consumer will figure out what works and what does not work.

Heatpumps are perhaps the best way to convert unused electricity to a valuable product. Making hydrogen is not. If the the electricity is coming from a wind generator connected to the grid then heatpumps can be turned on to heat water for later use. Japan uses many units of Ecocute efficient heat pumps. Engine driven natural gas fueled power generators can be turned off or operated at reduced power when wind is available and all wind machines should have such arrays of generators for backup, but these can be in homes and buildings all over the grid. Making ice when wind energy is available is another use of heatpumps to efficiently store wind energy for use in buildings for cooling later in the day. Even modern lead acid batteries are better for taking excess electricity from the grid than hydrogen. ..HG..

As an extension of your heat pump idea check this out; http://www.highview-power.com/wordpress/

Ice is definitely better than hydrogen as a way to store intermittent surpluses of energy on a time scale of days.

For seasonal variations, ice doesn't work too well.  Chemical storage is good, but issues of storage and shipment come to the fore.  Round-trip efficiency and capital investment are big issues.  Hydrogen can be generated from water alone, methane and alcohols are much denser and easier to ship.  What's better?  It may not have a clear winner.

I have to wonder if "seasonal storage" is even needed if we could link the grid nationally. Could we compare the round-trip efficiency of these storage ideas with the transmission loses of a long distance grid?

The period of peak heating demand in the north coincides with the period of least insolation in the entire country.  I don't think you're going to deal with that absent storage.

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