South Australia plans to build the world’s largest electrolyser and hydrogen power plant

The nation that built the world’s first “big battery” at the grid level is striking an even more ambitious green energy project: the world’s largest hydrogen power plant, powered by an electrolysis plant 10 times larger than anything running today.

South Australia has made impressive strides in decarbonization thanks to its massive solar and wind potential – to the point where almost 70% of all electricity comes from renewable sources. It is expected to pass the 100 percent threshold well before the 2030 target date, and back in 2021, this state of 1.7 million people met 100 percent of its operational demand from renewable energy alone 180 days a year.

Indeed, it was also one of the first places in the world to face the problem of excess generation when a storm brought down a long-distance power line late last year that was being used to export excess renewable energy to the neighboring state of Victoria. Australia’s power market operator has had to struggle to turn off much of the state’s remotely controlled solar resources and even ask consumers to turn on as many high-powered electrical devices as possible, just to keep grid levels under control. .

By partnering with Tesla and Neoen to build the world’s first large-scale grid-level battery plant back in 2017, the state has established itself as a global leader in grid-level energy storage as well as renewable generation, and approved several other large-scale energy projects. storage projects in the form of larger accumulators and hydraulic pump projects on the back of the success of the first accumulator facility.

But his new project takes an even bigger leap into the unknown, with far less obvious financial returns. In the absence of businesses willing to take the lead, the South Australian government is set to fully fund the A$600m ($415m) hydrogen power plant near Whyalla, hoping to have it up and running by 2025.

This plant will absorb excess renewable energy from the grid and run it through a massive 250 MW electrolysis plant – 10 times larger than any operating electrolysis plant in the world today – producing large amounts of hydrogen that will be stored on site. Then, when the renewable energy drops in the evenings or winter, it will run that hydrogen back through a 200 MW generator set and return the energy to the grid – either by burning it to power steam turbines or by converting it back to electricity through a huge stack of fuel elements.

However, as a purely short-term energy storage and distribution technology, hydrogen frankly sucks compared to batteries. The round-trip efficiency is less than 50% compared to 90% for lithium batteries, so you’re effectively wasting half your precious renewable energy this way. It’s also difficult to store unless you take extra steps to convert it to ammonia or some other easier-to-manage solid or liquid. It is unlikely that it will be able to compete with large batteries on a Levelized Cost of Storage (LCoS) basis, which is why no one else is pushing a similar project.

So why spend that kind of money on what looks like a waste of public financial, energy and water resources? Well, depending on how many drives are built, they can be useful for a longer period of time than batteries as a key backup for a fully renewable grid during an extended energy drought.

But it appears that the state government is also looking at the project as a way to kick-start a wider hydrogen scene in the area, with the ability to supply excess hydrogen to a number of other companies looking to use it in transportation, steelmaking, domestic gas, manufacturing or export projects. With such a short time frame – proposals due next month, so the plant is expected to go from green light to commissioning in about two years – the government is setting a target that could ramp up a broad hydrogen-based supply chain, and, for better or for the worse. , this will prove the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen as a grid-level storage solution.

Source: Government of South Australia via Renew Economy.

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