But the storage tanks in Prenzlau, some 70 miles north of Berlin,
hold energy produced from wind. A hybrid power plant sponsored by four
large companies is being tested there to see if the plant’s
wind-hydrogen-biogas technology will work.
The system takes wind energy and turns it into hydrogen, which allows
it to be stored. First electricity is produced in three wind turbines,
which is then used to produce C02-free hydrogen. This so-called “green”
hydrogen can be stored and mixed with biogas in a combined heat and
power plant, to be used as needed in times of higher demand.
The resulting fuel can then be used for electricity or to power cars.
The technology is designed to solve a key problem in the renewables
sector — how to store the energy that’s produced during a windy day for
use when it’s dark and still.
The Prenzlau project can produce 120 cubic meters of hydrogen per
hour. That can allow a hydrogen-powered car to travel 1,200 kilometers
wind energy company with its base near Prenzlau, is leading the
project. The company has 440 wind installations that produce 1.5 billion
kWh annually — enough to support the yearly energy needs of 1.5 million
The other firms are TOTAL,
the French oil giant, that has been testing and operating hydrogen fuel
stations for automobiles for some 10 years in Germany. It is set to
open another hydrogen fuel station at the new Berlin Airport when it
opens this June.
Vattenfall AB, the Swedish-based energy conglomerate, and DB Energie GmbH,
a subsidiary of the Deutsche Bahn AG, Germany’s federal railway, are
also involved. The Prenzlau project’s construction started in 2009 and
the plant went online last October. Some 21 million Euros ($35.7
million) were invested.
An additional alliance comprising of 14 participants from industry,
science, academic and research and development areas was announced last
December. Known as Performing Energy – Alliance for Wind Hydrogen, its goal is to support hydrogen energy efforts.
Vattenfall, a member of the Alliance that is financially supporting
the Prenzlau project, is interested seeing just how far hydrogen
technology can go, said its renewable energy spokesperson Lutz Wiese.
He said using hydrogen for electricity might not be so interesting in
a large country like the United States, but it could work in Germany.
He noted that a maximum volume of 5 percent hydrogen can be used in the
energy network, but said it’s still a good use for the fuel.
Another interesting area is hydrogen power for cars, where technology
has improved to allow for 400 km (248 miles) of travel on one tank,
compared to roughly 150 km (93 miles) for an electric battery-powered
car, Weise said. Vattenfall realizes that hydrogen and battery
technologies are competing, but noted that German car maker Mercedes
Benz AG is investing heavily in the hydrogen car.
“We’ll just have to see how it develops further,” he said, noting
that being able to drive more than twice as much on one fill up is an
attractive feature for potential buyers.
Not everyone is convinced. The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Heidelberg
said in a report that hydrogen fuel cell systems are costly, with units
ranging from 2500 to 5000 Euros ($4,250 to $ 8,500) per kW and a
lifespan of 10 years, compared to 40 years for other large-scale storage
technologies, which cost way less.
The IFEU does not believe that hydrogen will “become an important
storage medium in the short or medium term.” Renewable energy’s share of
the energy mix needs to be larger. If predictions hold out, hydrogen
fuel may become an important element after 2030, it said.
“Hydrogen storage should not be given preference over battery systems. However, it should not be excluded either.”