Hydrogen storage could hold key to power for the people

HAMISH MCNICOL
Last updated 05:00 26/01/2015
MAARTEN HOLL

Power storage: Callaghan Innovation researchers Robert Holt, left, and Alister Gardiner have developed a method of storing hydrogen gas to fuel remote communities which they say is a step towards being ‘‘completely autonomous’’.

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After 10 years of barbecues and hot showers, researchers believe hydrogen energy has risen above the hype and into a commercial reality.

And despite being about two years away from commerical readiness, the HyLink system could one day be a solution for the 1.6 billion people worldwide without access to grid energy.

Some of the world's top hydrogen scientists recently met in Wellington to share the results of a four-year project that analysed the market readiness of storing renewable hydrogen gas to power remote communities

Callaghan Innovation research-ers also showcased their own HyLink system, the result of more than 10 years' work, which they say has proven renewable energy, such as excess solar power, can be stored as hydrogen.

Senior research engineer Alister Gardiner said the system proved hydrogen energy had the potential to play a significant role in the country's renewable energy mix.

"We're looking for investors; it's now at the stage where it could go like some of the overseas projects are going if we get the right sort of mix of people involved.

"We've come a long way with our hydrogen energy. It's gone past the hype, and it's now into reality, that's the key thing to recognise."

HyLink was designed with the country's large rural communities, where people live at the fringe of the electricity grid or have no connection at all, in mind.

Often renewable sources of power, such as wind or solar, are used instead, but any excess power generated is often wasted, with the cost of battery storage prohibitively expensive.

Callaghan Innovation senior research scientist Robert Holt said the power generated by solar panels or a small wind turbine would first be used for whatever the electricity needs of a property might be.

But the HyLink system used an electrolyser to convert the remaining energy to hydrogen gas, which is then stored in pipes underground for when it was needed.

Last year, shadows were cast on the solar power industry after Meridian Energy cut its buy-rate for customers generating solar power to nearly a quarter of its existing rate, following competitor Contact Energy's own drop a few days earlier.

Holt said people used about 70 per cent of their electricity on heating, which was why they had decided to save the energy created, rather than just return it to electricity.

"On a good day, by lunchtime the batteries are full, then for the rest of the afternoon it's just completely wasted," Holt said.

"This says don't waste your time selling it back to the electricity companies - save it to use at night, save it to cook with or shower or bathe the children with.

"This is a step towards being completely autonomous, it's just time-shifting."

The HyLink model was still about two years away from being commercially ready, Holt said, as Callaghan looked to scale up the capacity of the system. Fairfax NZ

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- The Dominion Post

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