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Green homes give glimpse of renewable hydrogen future

By Emily Piesse / ABC News / 2 July 2018 

Video: Farming hydrogen in solar power.

Imagine a house where all the electricity is generated by rooftop solar.

Now imagine that, in addition, the stove, hot water and heating systems are all powered by the leftover energy.

It sounds like an emission-free pipedream, but the technology may be one step closer with the launch of a $3.3 million pilot project in Perth’s south.

Canadian gas giant ATCO is building a micro-grid at its Jandakot base, which will convert solar power into hydrogen fuel.

The micro-grid will use 1,100 solar panels to produce electricity, which will either power ATCO’s buildings or be diverted into battery storage.

Any leftover electricity will be used to power an electrolyser, which splits oxygen from hydrogen using water and an electric charge.

The oxygen is released, while the so-called “green” hydrogen is captured and stored.

The micro-grid will then divert the hydrogen in two ways — into a fuel cell for back-up power or into the reticulated natural gas network, to create a “greener”, lower-carbon fuel.

Blended natural gas and hydrogen fuels are already used in other countries and ATCO plans to test different blends at its operations.

‘A very local’ solution to energy storage

ATCO Australia managing director Pat Creaghan said the micro-grid offered the potential for large-scale recycling of excess solar power.

“It is a mixture of different technologies that we’re bringing together from some existing technologies to get a sense of how we operate in the future,” Mr Creaghan said.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) contributed $1.5 million in funding towards the project.

ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said blending hydrogen with natural gas could help solve the challenge of energy storage.

“If you think about having a system that runs completely on wind and solar, which I think we will within a few decades … there’s going to be a big storage requirement and we need that across a variety of different storage mechanisms,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“If you have a lot of rooftop solar, for example, the electricity network can’t deal with a lot of rooftop solar being fed into it.

“You could potentially, on a very local level, turn some of that electricity into hydrogen and store it.”

While blended natural gas and hydrogen fuels are used overseas, it remains to be seen whether Australia’s gas pipelines will be able to transport them.

“Some of the existing natural gas lines are ready for it and some need some work before they will be,” Mr Frischknecht said.

The micro-grid is expected to produce its first hydrogen by the first quarter of 2019.


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