The Hydrogen Wind Turbine that could Change Everything.

The answer to the energy storage challenge and irregular performance.

Renewable energies have a great advantage: although the fabrication and the recycling is not yet neutral on the environment, those energies produce a very small amount of CO2. However, it also has a big inconvenience; they are irregular and it is almost impossible to stock the energy it produces. To solve this dilemma, we can now use hydrogen to temporarily store the electricity produced by the wind turbines.

On January 13th, Siemens Gamesa and Siemens Energy announced a partnership to produce a Hydrogen Wind Turbine. The idea is to integrate an electrolyser directly in the turbine to transform the wind’s energy in hydrogen. The electrolyser will be placed at the base of the pole, synchronised with the wind turbines’ activity.

The Plan

Okay, you’re not an expert in electrolysis, but neither am I, so let’s try to understand the process and what it means. Hydrogen is emerging as an interesting solution in the quest for a sustainable fuel; therefore, more companies are looking to increase their production. As of today, more than 95% of the Hydrogen used by consumers is extracted from fossil fuels. The most common way to obtain hydrogen is Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) — it forces a reaction between Methane and Water vapour to obtain Hydrogen and CO2.

Electrolysis is another way of obtaining Hydrogen by using electricity in water (H2O) which separates the Hydrogen (H) molecule and the Oxygen (O) molecule. This is not only better for the environment because it avoids using non-renewable fossil fuels, luckily there is plenty of water at the foot of offshore wind turbines. “Thanks to this integrated process, the loss of energy is reduced to the maximum, whereas a molecular approach ensures a reliable and efficient set up. It is great news for the improvement of offshore wind turbines” said a contractor of the wind turbine.

The new wind-turbines will meet two main expectations: add value to the existing offshore wind turbines and offer a sustainable green hydrogen alternative to the industry. It will also allow the wind turbos to work autonomously, without being linked to a network.

Unfortunately, one of the challenges of wind turbines is that a single unit can destabilise a whole network because of unstable performance. “We will therefore be able to open more and more wind turbines sites, with better control of the performance, and better efficiency” said Christian Bruch, CEO of Siemens Energy.

Issues and Drawbacks

First, the water electrolysis is four times more expensive than SMR. Moreover, the process consumes a lot of energy itself, the electrolysed performance is at best 75%, which means a quarter of the electricity is lost. It is for this reason that it has to be done with green energy otherwise the waste would lead to even more pollution.

Financially speaking, despite the clear advantages of this new technology, to store wind turbine energy is way less profitable than to use it directly, and it is not clear yet where the hydrogen will be stored. We may wonder, how will the energy companies find a way to make more money out of these innovations?

The Future

photo of the SG 14-222 DD

The project is still promising in the sense that this new concept corrects two of the major drawbacks of wind turbines, irregular dependence and energy storage.

A demonstrator of electrolysis will be integrated in the “most powerful turbine in the world,” the SG 14-222 DD, produced by Siemens Gamesa. It has a capacity of 14 MW (2660 homes can get electricity for a year from one turbine). This gigantic wind turbine covers 39,000 square meters—the equivalent of 5 football fields for my Americans. It’s diameter approaches 222 meters—which is 0.74 Eiffel Towers for my French fellas (approx. 5.84 “O Cristo Redentor” for the Brazilians).

Siemens Gamesa and Siemens Energy plan to invest $145 millions in this project, with the objective to make this project ready to be implemented everywhere in 2025.

According to Forbes, the renewable energy market is at an unprecedented growth. It has experienced a double-digit growth rate for over ten years now and it is expected to reach 15% in 2021. The bio-energy market is expected to triple within the next 15 years.

Now, institutions, NGO’s, and other companies have to follow this matter closely and make sure to find the compromises needed to implant this type of wind turbine offshore without threatening biodiversity.

Hugo Amat.

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