Hydrogen-Wind-Nuclear Plant in Ontario Not Currently Worthwhile, Study Shows

August 6, 2008 By Lisa Zyga, Phys.org feature

A recent case study on using hydrogen to store the electricity generated by a mix of wind and nuclear power in Ontario, Canada, has shown that the hydrogen addition won’t be worth the cost, at least not at the current state of hydrogen technology development.

Bruce Power – Canada’s first private nuclear generating company – is considering including a hydrogen storage and distribution component to go along with a large scale wind farm, all presently sharing the main electrical transmission line in Bruce County, Ontario.

The province’s first commercial wind farm, Huron Wind, is located on the shore of Lake Huron. Its five wind turbines provide a maximum output power of 9 MW. Additional large scale wind farms are located close by, using the same transmission lines.

Bruce Power’s nuclear power plant, located about 250 km northwest of Toronto, consists of six reactors. Together, the reactors generate a total output power of 4,830 MW, which supplies more than 20% of Ontario’s electricity.

Using hydrogen as a storage and distribution method for the electricity generated by the wind farm and nuclear plant from the same region could have several potential benefits. When the cost of electricity is low, for example, the company could store part of its electricity production as hydrogen, and then sell it back to the electricity market when the price increases. Similarly, electricity could be stored as hydrogen when there is not enough line capacity to transfer it all at once. In periods of low winds, hydrogen storage could help make up for the variability and in periods of high winds and constrained transmission capacities, hydrogen could be used to store the electricity. In the future, the hydrogen itself could be sold to a hydrogen market, which could be more profitable than selling it back to the electricity market.

However, costs of the initial investment, production, and operation won’t be matched by the profit solely from storing electricity as hydrogen, according to the study by Gregor Taljan and Gregor Verbič from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Claudio Cañizares and Michael Fowler from the University of Waterloo, Ontario.

Even with an optimistic hydrogen production efficiency of 60% through electrolysis, the researchers’ evaluation shows that the electricity stored as hydrogen would need to be sold to the electricity market at a high price that rarely happens in order for the scheme to be profitable. As the researchers demonstrate, the selling price of electricity would need to be about four times the buying electricity price for the hydrogen system to profit from storing electricity.

“This study is very important from the viewpoint of finding synergies between electrical energy and chemical energy stored in hydrogen,” Taljan told PhysOrg.com. “The study shows that currently, hydrogen is not profitable solely for electricity storage. On the other hand, it might be economically acceptable to produce hydrogen from electricity at advantageous electricity/hydrogen prices. Furthermore, hydrogen is shown to be a highly favorable option when there are electricity transmission constraints in the area, limiting sales of electricity of a power producer.”

As the researchers explain, hydrogen storage might be an economically feasible option for storing electricity in times of insufficient electricity transmission line capacities, which would otherwise be dumped. This could be especially true in cases where the upgrade of transmission systems is not an option due to various reasons (such as remote location, resistance of local population, etc.).

The study also showed that a hydrogen sub-system for producing hydrogen could be profitable if there is sufficient hydrogen demand. For instance, transportation applications (such as cars, trains, and planes) could provide a market for buying hydrogen produced by a mixed wind-nuclear plant.

“Hydrogen production might become profitable when the Hydrogen Economy becomes fully mature, i.e. when the demand, and correspondingly prices, for hydrogen increases (expected mainly from the transportation sector),” Taljan said. “This might happen when the prices of fossil fuels rise as a result of many different possible factors (e.g. shrinking reserves, higher demand, political instabilities, CO2 emissions trading schemes). In this scenario, hydrogen might become a real fossil fuel substitute option which will drive up the hydrogen demand and prices, making the hydrogen production a lucrative business.

“In this context, it is also important that research into hydrogen production, storage, transmission, distribution and consumption components ‘wins the battle’ with the electron economy, where the energy carrier is considered to be electricity. Those two economies compete in many different areas, such as efficiencies, durability, and prices. Currently, hydrogen is advantageous in terms of higher energy density and durability but still lags in efficiencies.”

The team’s investigation into the feasibility of hydrogen is further elaborated in two other recent studies. “Hydrogen storage for mixed wind–nuclear power plants in the context of a Hydrogen Economy,” which is published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, deals with how the excess oxygen and heat utilizations would improve the economics of hydrogen systems primarily designed for storing of electricity.

The second study, “Study of Mixed Wind-Nuclear-Hydrogen Power Plants,” which is going to be presented at this year’s North American Power Symposium in Calgary, demonstrates that hydrogen is not economically feasible for the sole purpose of storing electricity, in spite of residual heat and oxygen utilization, and based on current hydrogen production and utilization technologies.

More information: Taljan, Gregor; Cañizares, Claudio; Fowler, Michael; and Verbič, Gregor. “The Feasibility of Hydrogen Storage for Mixed Wind-Nuclear Power Plants.” IEEE Transactions on Power Systems, Vol. 23, Issue 3, August 2008.

Copyright 2008 PhysOrg.com.
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of PhysOrg.com.

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1.8 / 5 (13) Aug 06, 2008
Obama, McCain, Paris, and Pickens plans will not solve our future energy needs or environmental problems with energy and could seriously hurt our future.

Hydrogen used as a battery offers new environmental and safety problems.

Space-Based Microwave/Solar Energy can.


We need a realistic, long term, cheap energy source.

I am glad so many people and companies are now trying to come up with an effective solution.

The alternative is not so rosy,,,a dead planet.
4.2 / 5 (13) Aug 06, 2008
Considering this is about a power company in CANADA, the Obama/McCain remark is unnecessary.

This article at least shows that hydrogen isn't the panacea that everyone assumes it is, and the developers thought it through instead of jumping on the popular band-wagon. Hydrogen is just another method of storing energy, unfortunately at the present time doesn't have the production efficiency nor the ease of storage.
3.3 / 5 (11) Aug 06, 2008
(holoman) You're making the mistake of believing our energy crisis is a problem of energy supply whereas instead it is a problem of energy storage.

"Free" energy is available anywhere and everywhere; the ground, the sun, the wind, the rain, the water. It's generally pretty trivial to tap into those resources.

Storing and transporting the energy you get from them is a different story however. We simply don't understand the physics to create a small, portable, non-volatile, high energy density storage devices that would make obtaining and maintaining an energy supply virtually anywhere extremely feasible.

Instead, we get a lot of outlandish, expensive, high-energy output ideas and suggestions that put as at the whim of the energy supply and rarely offer any contingency plans should the system collapse.

Earth without humans playing the game we call "life" doesn't make the planet dead.
2.4 / 5 (7) Aug 06, 2008
Waste heat output from electricity plants is far more economically utilizable & store-able energy than adding an inefficient secondary stage system to convert electricity to chemical energy carriers like hydrogen then later back to electricity.
Denmark builds mostly Combined Heat Power plants that are local enough to populations / industry to make District Heating viable.
In hot summer climates, district heat supply could thermally drive absorption cooling A/Cs and significantly offset A/C electricity demand.

I accept hydrogen could be valuable future transportation energy carrier, but district heat is already mature and much more plentiful from power plants.
2.9 / 5 (7) Aug 06, 2008
(brianN) ...and using the waste heat for district heating would have am much more significant impact since district heating consumes MORE energy than transportation in the uSA and likely MUCH MORE in Canada.
3.4 / 5 (8) Aug 06, 2008
We previously read of a group which used surplus energy from wind-generators to power air-pumps, which compressed air into giant air chambers that in turn was used to power turbines during the "windless" periods...which makes alot more sense to me!
3.3 / 5 (9) Aug 06, 2008
DGBeach: CAES so far has proven less practical than even H2 for storage of electricity due to the thermal losses suffer by the cooling of the compressed air. Much of the energy of compressed air is due to the heat content of it. Re-use it quick before it cools and you might have "up to" 70% potential efficiency. Let it cool in storage and that number drops way down. The only presently active CAES systems are ones which use natural gas to re-heat the compressed air, but that doesn't really make an effective total system.

Thermal storage of the heat of compression at time of compression also doesn't work because of the relatively low temperature of the heat to be stored and recovered. No win.
3 / 5 (9) Aug 06, 2008

The alternative is not so rosy,,,a dead planet.

This will NEVER happen contra the Gorian fearmongers. Today's CO2 levels are an average of under 400 ppm. Millions of years ago the number was over 7,000 ppm. Even if we reached this level the earth would not be a dead planet, which was fully alive with a great many exotic life forms millions of years ago.

Too much bad science and pseudoscience abounding in the world these days for my taste...!
2.5 / 5 (4) Aug 06, 2008
Last DOE estimate I saw was 1100 gals of heating oil for ave U.S. home heating & DHW compared to about 1200 gals gasoline for 2 cars per homes each doing 15K miles (25mpg). Most energy produced at power plants is waste heat up the cooling tower as electricity generation is typically 20-30% eff.
Much of that waste heat low grade steam could serve local populations as district heat and in Denmark is distributed at only about 100F.
Its already used at many U.S. campuses and military bases but is distributed closer to 80F AFAIR.
What impact are you referring to aside from capital cost and a decades long implementation.
1.9 / 5 (9) Aug 06, 2008
As long as gas is under $10 a gallon, I won't bet on any change to the satus quo.
3.1 / 5 (8) Aug 06, 2008
@vlam67, the status quo is already changing. Demand in Oil is dropping due to high prices and is increasing the numbers of people who are staying home instead of going abroad for vacation.

3.1 / 5 (7) Aug 06, 2008
[about CAES]Let it cool in storage and that number drops way down.

In principle this can be solved by isothermal compression. In practice it's solved by burning natural gas.
3 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2008
Much of the energy of compressed air is due to the heat content of it. Re-use it quick before it cools and you might have "up to" 70% potential efficiency

If you remember the air was being pumped into empty mines and such, way beneath the surface. If you were to pump, let's say, cold winter-air down there, then it would actually WARM UP, increasing the energy stored in the air!
I live in Canada. Short summers and long cold winters. So up here this would actually make sense.
2.7 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2008
Sorry DGBEACH, but in compressing the air to pump it underground it goes through adiabatic heating. You'll have to recover that heat via a heat exchanger before sending it underground in order to make any sense of this approach. To minimize pumping costs, you'll want to operate closed-cycle, but that means another (different) heat exchanger to extract the geothermal heat from the recovered high pressure air. Stick to liquids for your working fluid, it makes way more sense (more efficient impellers). Entrap air or CO2 above the liquid as the energy storage medium. Starts to look like a natural gas reservoir, doesn't it?
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2008
Song, I don't think you appreciate how big an underground tunnel is or how cold Canadian winters can get. You don't need to compress to high pressure to get a lot of energy stored in an unused mine shaft. 2 atmospheres or maybe 3 would be just fine. Pump in some -40C air, and in relatively short order it will be 5C. Even after decompression it will still be warmer than -40.

Maybe it won't work in the summer too well, but an expansion area of a solar heat engine could also superheat the air to 400C before it hits the fan's too, so don't even go there.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 07, 2008
*song* You are completely overlooking the obvious absorption by the air of the geothermal heat present within these shafts...free heat would be ADDED to it, which would increase the pressure even more due to expansion, thus there would be a net gain in energy by the mere fact of the air being down there (despite any possible losses due to adiabatic-heating/cooling)!

As Lord_jag pointed out, we're talking -40C (and colder) initial air-temp, and v-e-r-y l-a-r-g-e underground areas.

not rated yet Aug 14, 2008
You proponents of CAES need to point to some real studies done by knowledgeable thermodynamics experts, to get any credibility. "Cold Canadian winter air making an iota of difference to economics of a CAES system?" indeed. Buy a thermodynamics text before posting any more such foolishness.

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