Hydrogen Eyed As Clean Grid Stabilizer In Hawaii

Hydrogen for renewable energy storage, obtained by electrolysis of water, hasn’t gotten much play in the United States, but a novel project unfolding in Hawaii could provide some real-world insight into the viability of the technology as a grid-management tool.

A Hawaii Natural Energy Institute project in the planning stages would take advantage of clean power from the Puna Geothermal Venture, which has been operating since 1993 on the Big Island and is rated by owner Ormat at 38 megawatts. This plant — surprisingly, given the state’s famous volcanic activity, the only geothermal setup in the state — provides around 20 percent of the Big Island’s electricity.

hydrogen energy storage hawaii

Puna Geothermal Venture, Hawaii (image via Ormat)

Under the project plan, geothermal-produced electricity will be used onsite to separate hydrogen and oxygen, the process known as electrolysis. The hydrogen will then be put into 12 cylinders at 450 bar (6,600 psi), for a total of 230 pounds, and loaded onto a specially designed trailer. The trailer will be pulled to a public transit yard, where the hydrogen will be used to power a 19-passenger shuttle bus that has a 10 kilogram capacity tank.

That the project is using geothermal is incidental and the use of the hydrogen with the bus is mostly a side benefit, although Hawaii is a leader in hydrogen fuel cell vehicle promotion and the process at play here could be a factor in its growth.

But the real aim is to gain a better understanding of the electrolyzer operation, testing its performance and durability under dynamic conditions and drawing some conclusions, perhaps, about the costs and benefits of using the technology to store energy that can then be used to mitigate the grid impacts of variable renewable energy sources – solar and wind — that are booming on the islands.

According to the draft environmental assessment for the project, “The problem being experienced on the (Hawaii Electric Light Company) grid is that as the level of intermittent renewables is increased, it has become increasingly more difficult to manage the grid, which sometimes requires additional fossil fuel generation to provide the necessary grid stability support.”

On page 2: Wind is the usual candidate for electrolyzer powering

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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