The Ashes

Technology, Science and other news
April 25, 2009

Germany To Build World’s First Hybrid Power Plant

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Filed under : General

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the revolutionary new type of hybrid power station a "qualitative milestone."

Will be the world’s first power station to produce clean energy, heat, and hydrogen capable of being stored for use at a later time.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel inaugurated what will become the world’s first hybrid power plant which will generate electricity, heat and hydrogen from renewable energy sources, when she laid the foundation stone at a ceremony near the German city of Prenzlau on Tuesday.

The $27 million hybrid power plant, scheduled to be up and running by the spring of 2010, will use three wind generators to provide power to 2,000 homes and heating for 300.

The new plant will overcome one of the biggest issues seen with conventional wind plants.

Since wind is a highly intermittent source of power, it usually produces either too much, or not enough power.

According to Enertrag, the firm in charge of the plant’s construction, when there is too much wind for the grid to handle, the excess energy will be converted via electrolysis – the separation of chemical compounds by electric current – into hydrogen for storage. When the plant isn’t producing enough wind energy, the hydrogen can then be mixed with biogas and converted back into energy that can be used to power homes.

“The combination of renewable energy and energy storage will be a determining factor in a steady and climate-acceptable energy supply,” said Merkel, who happens to be a trained physicist.

Critics of the technology say that hydrogen may not be the best medium for storing energy, but Lutz Metz of the Environmental Policy Research Unit at the Free University in Berlin said hydrogen is as good an option as any.

“The conversion of wind power to hydrogen is not so bad,” Meyz told Germany’s Deutsche Welle. “It’s via electrolysis and the efficiency is in the range of 70 to 85 percent, so that’s not bad. If you look at a car engine the efficiency is 15 percent, so there’s a much more efficient conversion of wind power to hydrogen.”

The stored fuel can also be used to run hydrogen-powered vehicles, according to Enertrag.

Claudia Kemfert, head of the Department of Energy, Transportation and Environment at the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, said the Enertrag plant is a breakthrough for the renewables sector.

“I think it’s a technological innovation. On the one hand it uses a renewable energy, which is biogas in this case, and also it produces hydrogen at the same stage.

“The innovation here is that you can also store the electricity which is produced by this plant and new energy is also being produced. I think it’s a real breakthrough and will be … used on a global scale in the future.”

Kemfert said that although the energy produced at the Prenzlau plant will be significantly less than that produced at a coal power plant – which can cost billions of euros to build – it is still a valuable asset for Germany in its efforts to curb its greenhouse gas emissions.

European Union leaders have agreed to cut greenhouse emissions by 20 percent and ensure that 20 percent of energy comes from renewable sources by 2020.

The process involved in the operating of the hybrid power plant will not produce any carbon dioxide emissions.

German leaders are expecting the first plant to spur on the construction of additional such power stations across the country, and set an example for the world to follow.

“This is something for the future, it will set an example,” said Merkel, who called it a “qualitative milestone” for the push toward relying more on renewable energy.

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