The Associated Press is reporting that a New Mexico company, Jetstream Wind (WARNING: annoying animated introduction accompanied by equally annoying dramatic soundtrack), has broken ground on what it claims will be “the world’s first utility-scale, zero-emissions hydrogen power plant.”
According to the company website, their plan is to use renewable energy to produce hydrogen, and then burn the hydrogen to generate electricity. The news story says the plant will “generate enough electricity to power about 6,000 homes.” I’m not sure what that translates into in terms of actual electric capacity, but the company website suggests its plans are for a 10 MW capacity unit.
The website admits that, “the hydrogen production process is typically quite costly due to the great amount of electricity required in the electrolysis process, [but] Jetstream Wind Inc. can power its H2 production facilities with renewable energy, making the process extremely cost-effective.”
If that kind of claim doesn’t have you scratching your head and saying, “What the …?”, then you haven’t been paying attention.
Given that, in most installations most of the time, renewable power sources other than large-scale hydro are more expensive than your typical fossil-fuel sourced electricity, what that company seems to be saying is, “we are taking a ‘typically quite costly’ process and making it even more costly by relying on expensive renewable sources of power.” How do you get “extremely cost-effective” out of that?
The main values produced here, if any, are in reduced emissions and as an energy storage system.
To the extent the system allows wind power or solar to displace coal-fueled power, for example, local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced. The extra cost of the hydrogen system can be seen as a way to “purchase” the associated environmental benefits.
Excess wind or solar power production can be used to generate hydrogen which is stored and can be used to produce electricity when needed. Low-cost off-peak generation can be shifted to higher-value on-peak power, or the hydrogen-fueled generator could be used to provide energy balancing, voltage control, and other high-valued ancillary services to the transmission grid. The extra cost of the hydrogen system may be worthwhile as a way to capture these additional values.
My general sense of things it that there are probably cheaper ways of achieving the environmental benefits and providing ancillary services to the transmission grid, but what do I know? I didn’t see any information on the financing of the $219 million project now underway in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
If they are investing their own money, I wish them the best of luck.