Hydrogen tanks beside PV-Moduls and Wind mills

Hydrogen – a long-term storage medium for renewable energies

Electricity from renewable energies abounds in the EWE network area. At times, there is actually more power than people and companies in the region are able to consume. Hydrogen technology offers promising approaches to fully exploit this surplus, integrating it seamlessly into the energy supply system.

Excess electricity can be used to produce hydrogen in a climate-friendly way. This hydrogen can then be stored, transported via the existing natural gas network and reused for an extensive range of purposes exactly when required without emitting harmful greenhouse gases.

The EWE regions provide the perfect environment for establishing this new technology because they offer all the necessary expertise, infrastructure and power from renewable energies, as well as partners seeking to build a successful, climate-friendly hydrogen economy.

What exactly is hydrogen?
hydrogen in detail

To understand why hydrogen can be such a valuable component in advancing the energy revolution, it helps to zero in on its molecules. H is the chemical symbol for hydrogen and the word is derived from the Latin hydrogenium. Hydrogen is the first element in the periodic table and a constituent part of almost all organic compounds.

Two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom combined form the basis for all life on Earth: water or, expressed as a chemical formula, H2O. Hydrogen is combustible and can be used as an energy carrier in a similar way to fossil natural gas and methane. Unlike fossil fuel combustion, however, the hydrogen combustion process merely produces water vapour instead of environmentally harmful waste products such as sulphur oxides, carbon, carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.

How can hydrogen be produced?

There are different methods available to generate hydrogen. One is electrolysis, which produces climate-friendly, “green” hydrogen. During electrolysis, electricity is used to split hydraulic water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Hydrogen can also be produced from methane or natural gas. These gases are split into hydrogen and solid carbon or carbon dioxide using steam reforming and methane pyrolysis. However, these processes are harmful to the environment due to the waste products. Electrolysis is the better alternative. Admittedly, it is more complex than other industrial processes used to produce hydrogen from fossil fuels. However, if the electricity used comes from renewable energy sources, electrolysis is a climate-neutral production process involving only water, oxygen and hydrogen.

Hydrogen as a future fuel - the key to the energy revolution

Hydrogen will become one of the key energy sources in the future to ensure energy transition and climate neutrality goals can be achieved. The potential uses of hydrogen are highly varied in this field. At present, relevant fields include mobility powered by fuel cells or synthetic fuels, but hydrogen is also currently being used in energy storage.

The IRENA Institute has collected statistical data on how hydrogen production volumes worldwide will develop by 2050. This data comprises forecasts. For instance, around 1.8 million tons of blue and green hydrogen were generated between 2015 and 2018. By 2030, this figure will be around 19 million tons in the planned energy scenario. A planned energy scenario describes the reference scenario based on existing national energy strategies. Around 65 million tons of sustainably generated hydrogen will be produced in 2050. As early as 2030 onwards, the main product will be green rather than blue hydrogen. This makes it clear that hydrogen is an essential component on the road to climate neutrality.

A Greenpeace study on hydrogen production costs in Germany shows similar developments. The costs are indicated in cents/kWh hydrogen with a distinction being made between the colour of the hydrogen. If production costs 16.5 cents/kWh in 2019, the price will fall to 12 cents/kWh in 2030. The study ends with a price trend in 2050, where one kilowatt hour of hydrogen will cost around 9 cents.

Both studies are consistent with EWE’s approach. The Group sees hydrogen as one of the key energy sources in the future. EWE is already setting its course into the future. This approach is leading the Group to become a national and international pioneer in the hydrogen economy with various pilot projects.

Using hydrogen as an energy source

man standing on a wind mill

Weather-dependent electricity produced from renewable energy sources such as the wind and sunshine can be converted into the storable energy carrier hydrogen, which, in turn, can be used for a wide variety of applications ranging from mobility to heating.

Over 90 per cent of electricity flowing through the networks already comes from renewable energies in the EWE region in northwest Germany. The flat terrain and coastal regions offer optimum conditions to exploit wind power on land. Large offshore wind farms also supply substantial electricity from the sea to the mainland.
The region frequently produces more energy than people and companies could ever use. As flexible consumers, hydrogen electrolyzers can help absorb production peaks when this happens. If there is too much electricity from the sun and wind in the network, electrolyzers run at full speed; in slack periods, they switch off.

hydrogen lorry and a hydrogen storage

From theory to practical everyday use - the electrolyzer in Huntorf and Hyways for Future

From theory to practical everyday use – the electrolyzer in Huntorf and Hyways for Future
At its Huntorf site in Lower Saxony, EWE is conducting a trial to see how a hydrogen economy might work on a small scale. The Group maintains a number of caverns on this site, consisting of giant underground hollows in natural salt domes, where natural gas is stored. It also operates an electrolyzer with a power output of 25 kilowatts (kW) on the same premises.

A 100 kW photovoltaic power plant will initially cover the cavern facility’s basic requirements. The electrolyzer is powered by surplus electricity.

The green hydrogen produced is still stored in above-ground storage tanks at present, but it may also be stored in the caverns at a future date. The hydrogen produced is currently used to refuel EWE’s own small fleet of fuel cell vehicles at a hydrogen filling station on the Huntorf site.

EWE has a broader ambition to establish a domestic hydrogen market in cooperation with partners and intends to invest around EUR 90 million in its Hyways for Future project.

Why do we refer to hydrogen as the energy carrier of the future?

Paul Schneider at our hydrogen fuel statin with a hydrogen-lorry

When electrical power is used to generate hydrogen, it produces an energy carrier which can be used for transport and industry, as heating energy or in power plants. This means that different areas in the energy economy become interlinked unexpectedly. The technical term for this interconnection is sector coupling. Thanks to this versatility, hydrogen is often referred to as the energy carrier of the future.

Thanks to sector coupling, energy from renewable sources also comes into use in sectors such as transport and industry, where fossil fuels such as crude oil and natural gas still dominate heavily at present. However, global climate protection goals can only be achieved if the sectors which currently do too little towards climate protection are also gradually made greener.

EWE believes hydrogen can be used effectively in industry and for long-distance and heavy-duty transport. The transport sector is thus precisely one area where hydrogen fills a gap with comparatively climate-friendly electric mobility thanks to its use of fuel cells, making it particularly suitable for short and medium distances in passenger transport.

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