Hydrogen Energy Storage: A green alternative to Batteries

The quest for sustainable green energy and the changes in energy costs have led us to the doorstep of localized solar energy storage - a solution that promises a future powered by clean, renewable energy right at your location. As we delve into the intricacies of the technologies behind this, we uncover the challenges and opportunities it presents, particularly in the context of expected Net Energy Metering (NEM) changes in Washington State.

The Lithium-Ion Conundrum

Lithium-ion batteries, the current frontrunners in solar energy storage, offer high energy density and rechargeability, making them seemingly ideal for our needs. They have become synonymous with modern energy storage, powering everything from smartphones to electric vehicles and their high energy density and rechargeability make them ideal for storing solar energy.

However, their production is not without consequences. The mining of rare metals necessary for these batteries often occurs in ecologically sensitive areas, leading to deforestation, soil erosion, and water contamination. The socio-economic impact is just as profound, with mining operations linked to geopolitical tensions, exploitation, and labor violations. And at the end of their life, there is the question of how to properly dispose of these batteries. Recycling is still in its infancy and not regulated or enforced by the government, yet.

The impact of NEM changes to the Solar Industry

For residents of Washington State, the benefits of solar energy storage extend beyond environmental stewardship. Net Energy Metering (NEM) policies allow consumers who generate their own electricity from solar power to feed excess energy back into the grid. This not only reduces their energy bills but also contributes to a more resilient and sustainable energy infrastructure. At this time, most utilities in Washington still provide a 1:1 NEM, meaning that you sell for the same price as you buy energy. Looking at California that just changed this to a much lesser amount for consumers selling than buying, it becomes more important to look at alternatives to selling back the energy. Most prominent is to store the energy locally and use it during times when the sun is not shining. The energy stored can be used at night, providing blackout resilience, enhancing grid resiliency, and increasing cost savings.

You can read all about net metering on the Solar Washington’s website.  To stay informed about developments that can impact the net metering policies and the benefits for those generating their own power, keep an eye on updates from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) or the Washington Solar Energy Industries Association (WASEIA).

Hydrogen - the Path to clean sustainability

Hydrogen storage solutions emerge as a promising alternative. Hydrogen can be generated from solar and generates electricity with only water vapor as a byproduct. This positions hydrogen as a clean and versatile energy carrier that could complement or replace lithium-ion batteries.

Solar energy can be stored as hydrogen through a process called electrolysis, where electricity from solar panels splits water into oxygen and hydrogen gas. The hydrogen gas can then be stored under pressure, or in a metal hydride, and converted back into electricity when needed through fuel cells. These methods are particularly appealing due to their potential for high energy density and their environmentally friendly nature, as the only byproduct of hydrogen fuel cells is water.

The U.S. Department of Energy recognizes the potential of hydrogen as a storage medium, stating, "Hydrogen storage is a key enabling technology for the advancement of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in applications including stationary power, portable power, and transportation" and aims for a 1:1:1 target: "One Dollar for one kilogram of Hydrogen in 1 decade". This highlights the department's commitment to reducing costs and improving the viability of hydrogen storage. One Kilogram of Hydrogen contains about 33Kw/h energy depending on the efficiency of the fuel-cell. 

When comparing battery storage to hydrogen storage, several factors come into play. Batteries offer immediate energy release and high round-trip efficiency, meaning most of the energy put into the battery can be retrieved. However, they have limitations in terms of energy density and long-term storage capacity.

Hydrogen, on the other hand, boasts a higher energy density and can be stored for longer periods, making it suitable for seasonal storage needs. Hydrogen storage systems are lauded for their high energy content and the fact that they produce zero emissions during use. They offer a potential solution for small- and large-scale storage and can be used in a variety of applications beyond electricity, such as in transportation and industry. However, technology around hydrogen is still in development, with fewer choices on the market, higher costs and lower round-trip efficiencies compared to batteries.

 2024 is set to be a transformative year for solar energy storage. Customers in the solar energy industry have a growing array of options, each with its own set of advantages and challenges. As the world moves towards a more sustainable future, the development of efficient and environmentally friendly storage solutions remains a top priority. Whether opting for traditional battery storage or adopting the innovative realm of hydrogen, the goal is clear: to harness and store solar energy in the most effective way possible. The journey towards greener energy storage is ongoing, and the choices made today will shape the energy landscape of tomorrow.

Research and academic publications emphasize the importance of green hydrogen production using renewable energy sources to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Green hydrogen is seen as a sustainable and clean energy source that can contribute to decarbonization and net-zero emissions by 2050. The shift towards clean energy using green hydrogen requires collaboration among industries, governments, communities, and research institutions, offering a chance to increase sustainable growth, diversify energy sources, and decrease emissions of greenhouse gases.

Implementing green hydrogen technology in the solar energy industry can significantly contribute to the climate crisis solution by providing a clean, sustainable, and versatile energy carrier. It has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions and offer a promising way to utilize solar energy, addressing the urgent need for clean and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.

Conclusion: Weighing the Options

The debate between solar energy storage batteries and hydrogen is not just about technical feasibility; it's about our responsibility to future generations. As we forge ahead, it is crucial to consider the full spectrum of consequences associated with our choices. Only through a balanced approach that prioritizes both innovation and sustainability can we hope to achieve a truly green energy revolution.

Chris is passionate about Hydrogen and what this most abundant element in the universe can do for our green energy future. You can comment on this article below or contact him through Solar Washington.  

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

get updates