Using the natural gas grid to store wind energy

Oct 1, 2012 | Energy and Carbon, Environment | 0 comments

The suggestion that wind energy be used to generate hydrogen to be injected into the natural gas grid needs serious consideration.

I think at this stage most people have agreed that it is essential to decarbonise the generation of electricity. The latest news regarding the accelerated melting of the arctic icecap has highlighted the need for this. There are of course a number of ways of generating electricity without burning fossil fuels; hydro, wind, solar, tidal and nuclear. Wind energy, and to some extent solar energy, is perhaps unique in that it cannot be planned for with certainty in the immediate short-term.

Energy demand patterns are fairly predictable and matching conventional power plant availability to demand is a well understood process. Nuclear and fossil fuelled power plant can be ramped up and down fairly easily, the tidal patterns are well known and thus tidal energy output can be predicted and taken into account when planning to meet the expected demand. Wind energy is slightly different to the others in that it is difficult to predict when the energy is going to be available. This often means that when the wind blows, fossil fuelled plant output is scaled back and as a result operates at low load and as a consequence, low efficiency.

What is clearly needed is a cost effective method of storing wind generated electricity. Pumped storage schemes are one solution. However, a new idea proposed whereby surplus wind energy is used to electrolyse water to generate hydrogen has some merit. The problem with hydrogen generation as a renewable energy solution is that for storage and transporting the hydrogen to the point of use, large investments are required in infrastructure. The new proposal neatly solves this problem by suggesting that the hydrogen be injected into the natural gas grid. Apparently up to 5% hydrogen can be added to natural gas without effecting users.

In effect the new proposal is using the natural gas grid to store wind energy. If this turns out to be feasible then incentives may be required. I will be watching developments with interest.