Large scale storage solutions critical to future dominance of solar

"Solar and wind can successfully occupy a key role in the renewable energy future for Germany," stated Fraunhofer ISE’s Christoper Helbling, during his kickoff speech at the International Summit for the Storage Renewable Energy this morning. To achieve a high percentage of solar and wind in the mix, the country will need to quickly role out an upgraded power transmission grid – one that can handle flexible loads, including large scale and longer term energy storage systems, he explained.

Large and longer term storage solutions are critical to handle the "intermittency challenge," believes Olav Hohmyer, a professor from the University of Flensburg. "Germany could actually be completely energy autonomous, except for the storage bottleneck," he said from the podium. Autonomy in this case would mean no need to purchase fossil fuel or energy from international trading partners.

The need to find a range of storage solutions is clear at E.ON, according to its head of alternative energy systems, Alexander Vogel. "We are increasing our deployment of renewable energy and foresee that storage is essential to handle intermittent power production. It is fluctuating power that is not always produced when or where you need it," he said.

Helbling and Vogel both described a research and industry effort dubbed Power2Gas, which aims to develop large scale hydrogen storage solutions, exploiting the country’s existing gas pipelines and underground storage. It is literally a ground-breaking effort. For example, there are already several existing underground hydrogen storage facilities in the U.S., built by the likes of Praxair, Air Liquide, and Conoco Phillips, but these are not exactly the same as what is being proposed here.

"There are none yet that have been built in Germany or to German standards of safety and environmental considerations," said Fritz Crotogino, a project development and R&D manager for KBB Underground Technologies GmbH, one of the key players providing massive underground caverns for safe storage of gases in Germany.

There are challenges with the maturity and efficiency of the large scale electrolysers, but one of the key issues is more subtle: Power2Gas requires a shift in the mindset of market participants. "Utilities and other market players are vertically integrated and oriented, but a hydrogen storage solution requires horizontal integration," said Helbling. But it is a hurdle, not a deal breaker. "The technology is available, you just have to do it," he concluded.