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UK should use gas grid to store electricity from offshore wind

Tue 15 May 2018 by David Foxwell

UK should use gas grid to store electricity from offshore wind

Using the UK’s fast-growing offshore wind energy capacity to produce hydrogen to store energy is a no-brainer.

The UK should follow other countries and support changes that enable electricity from renewables to be stored in a gas grid.

Power-to-gas supports the integration of renewable energy and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As an electricity storage method, it can compensate for fluctuations in electricity generation and facilitate long-term use of electricity which cannot be integrated directly into the grid at times of high renewable generation.

As I highlighted last month, work has been  undertaken in Belgium by Eoly, part of Colruyt Group, Fluxys and offshore wind developer Parkwind on an industrial-scale power-to-gas project. Together, they plan to convert green electricity from offshore wind into hydrogen via electrolysis. The gas produced would be stored in Belgium’s natural gas infrastructure.

Other, similar projects are under way in several countries - in fact there are around 40 power-to-gas projects currently in operation in Europe - but as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said recently, it’s high time the government in the UK did its bit and boosted investment in this promising technology.

Doing so could make the UK energy system greener and more efficient. It would have the dual advantage that green energy from offshore wind could be used to produce another form of environmentally friendly energy for use elsewhere.

The institution said power-to-gas technology would allow the grid to store excess electricity and support a further expansion of renewable power in the UK. As it also noted, one of the barriers sometimes cited to increasing renewable capacity in the UK is the inability to store excess electricity – if, for example, it is very windy, but demand levels are low.

“Clean energy can fulfil the requirements of all energy sectors, as well as many heavy industries, and provides a great option for the UK,” said the institution.

It further noted that the gas grid has the potential to store excess electricity for longer than other energy storage technology – such as batteries – which are also being investigated as a way of storing electricity from renewables.

Hydrogen produced in this way could be used in a number of ways, including transport, or as a green feedstock for other industries.

As DNV GL's president and chief executive Remi Eriksen noted not long ago, it's not difficult to imagine a future power-to-gas value chain where surplus electricity from offshore wind is converted to hydrogen for injection into existing infrastructure. A joint industry project led by DNV GL has been examining technical guidelines for injecting hydrogen into gas transmission and distribution networks. 

All in all, it’s a win-win solution.

• On 11 May 2018,  the government announced a £20M (US$27M) boost to businesses embracing the potential for a future UK hydrogen economy. Energy and Clean Growth Minister, Claire Perry unveiled a ‘Hydrogen Supply’ programme that will look to significantly reduce the high cost of producing large volumes of hydrogen, so that the technology can become a competitive, clean energy supply of the future.

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