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Germany has just witnessed the opening of the world’s first ever industrial scale renewable energy plant that uses excess wind energy to create hydrogen, and then pump the hydrogen directly into the natural gas pipeline grid.

It is thought that such a revolutionary new idea could make wind power more popular, as it offers far more effective use of the clean energy created when demand is low, rather than storing it in some other inefficient form.

E.On, the joint owners of the P2G unit in Falkenhagan, East Germany, along with Swissgas AG, said that the plant had a capacity of 2 megawatts, and could produce 360 cubic metres of hydrogen gas every hour.

Power-to-Gas Unit
Power-to-Gas Unit. (E.ON)

The P2G plant offers s new way of storing energy. Instead of turning off a wind turbine when power demand is low or storing the excess energy via expensive techniques such as moving water up hill, charging a battery, or sending the energy to another region where the demand is high, the power is used to turn water into hydrogen by electrolysis whereupon it is injected directly into the natural gas grid.

Related article: Wind Energy Spreading Beyond Europe

Philipp Rösler, the German Economics Minister stated that “one of the biggest challenges of transforming Germany’s energy system is finding ways to integrate the increasing share of intermittent, renewable-source energy. To ensure that Germany’s power system remains stable and that our economy continues to have the energy it needs, we not only have to rapidly expand energy networks. We also need innovative solutions like the P2G unit here in Falkenhagen.”

A recently released report by the US Department of Energy, titled ‘Blending Hydrogen into Natural Gas Pipeline Networks: A Review of Key Issues’ actually reviewed the idea of injecting clean hydrogen gas into existing natural gas pipelines and found that the natural gas grid could only cope with a small amount of hydrogen gas before extensive changes were needed to support the new gases properties. However the report did conclude that the idea still warranted further investigation, and this project by E.On could provide the perfect chance opportunity to make further valuable insights into the technology.

Another similar technology being tested in Germany follows a similar process, however the hydrogen is then combined with CO2 in fuel cells to produce a carbon neutral methane gas, known as synthetic methane, which can then be injected into the natural gas grid without any of the modifications necessary with hydrogen.

By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com



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