Hydrogen storage could help meet UK's future energy demands

by Search Gate staff. Published Wed 20 May 2016 08:11
Report suggests salt mines could be used to store hydrogen
Report suggests salt mines could be used to store hydrogen

Storing hydrogen deep underground in salt caverns and converting it into a reliable, affordable, flexible power source could help meet the UK’s future peak energy and load following demands, according to a new report published by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

The report, written by the ETI’s Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Strategy Manager Den Gammer, looks at the role hydrogen storage could play in a clean, responsive power system.

It uses the findings from a techno economic study carried out by Amec Foster Wheeler for the ETI into the technologies used in hydrogen production, the stores themselves and the power sector that converts hydrogen into electricity.

It concluded that using salt caverns to store hydrogen for power generation when the demand for electricity peaks would reduce the investment needed in new clean power station capacity.

Den Gammer, the ETI’s Strategy Manager for CCS said: “We discovered that the ability to store hydrogen in large quantities and convert that hydrogen into power is a reliable, affordable and flexible way of creating power to meet peak energy demands in the UK.

“The UK’s energy landscape is changing very rapidly. More renewable power supplies are being installed and, although clean, these new supplies are intermittent, which increases the need for a low cost, clean, on-demand power supply that currently only fossil fuel plants can provide.

“The country needs a system that follows the load the public creates and our research shows that systems involving the storage of hydrogen and creating power from it, can do that in a very flexible way. Modelling shows that such storage schemes become effective in the time period 2030 -2040.

“The main benefit is one of cost as it would be a low cost way of providing clean power for peak and load following demand. Large amounts of energy can be stored, with one cavern providing enough storage capacity to satisfy the peak demands of a single UK city.”

Today, salt caverns are already used for storing oil and natural gas and there are around 30 very large caverns in the UK.

The techno-economic modelling concentrated on a relatively shallow field of caverns in Teesside, deeper stores in East Yorkshire and an intermediate one such as the salt caverns found in Cheshire.

The ETI believes that fossil fuels will still have a role to play in the UK’s energy system beyond 2030 but those plants should be equipped with CCS technology.

An ETI report published in March showed that building a 10 GW scale CCS sector by 2030 in the UK is feasible and affordable. Apart from providing low carbon electricity, CCS can capture emissions from industry, help deliver low carbon gas and deliver ‘negative emissions’ when combined with bio-energy.

Den Gammer added: “Beyond 2030, to get the most out of the investment required for installing a CCS plant you would need to reduce the time it is spent idle because its power production may not be required. If you can store hydrogen that is produced continuously by modestly sized hydrogen plants in salt caverns, then you release that to generate electricity only when the system demands it.

“This is a lot more efficient and cost effective than building a whole new power station designed to meet peak demand but only running for a small part of the day.”

The ETI recently published an Insight report “Targets, Technologies, Infrastructure and Investments – Preparing the UK for the Energy Transition” which concluded that the UK can implement an affordable transition to a low carbon energy system over the next 35 years by developing, commercialising and integrating technologies and solutions that are already known, but underdeveloped.

It also warned that decisions taken in the next decade are critical in preparing for the transition and crucial decisions must be made about the design of the UK future energy system by 2025 to avoid wasting investment and ensure the 2050 climate targets remain achievable.

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