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Wind power and hydrogen: complementary energy sources for sustainable energy supply – Part 1

Alexandra Huss – AKOMBE, Cologne, Germany

The North Rhine-Westphalia region in Germany has begun daily operation of its first wind power electrolysis plant, which independently and reliably supplies the h2herten application centre with renewable energy. The new facility creates an energy supply concept – utilising hydrogen and fuel cell technology – that sets the standard for future sustainable and decentralised energy supply.

This article is taken from the April 2013 issue of the Fuel Cells Bulletin newsletter – check out the sample Digital Edition.

In April, North Rhine-Westphalia’s first wind power electrolysis plant went live in Herten, in the northern Ruhr. The plant is part of the h2herten application centre, Germany’s first municipal technology centre based on hydrogen and fuel cell technology, which opened its doors in 2009.

The wind power electrolysis plant takes the centre far beyond its original focus on hydrogen and fuel cell technology, developing and creating an energy supply concept which sets the standards for the sustainable and decentrally organised energy supply of the future.

The wind power electrolysis plant was designed as a pilot facility, which in many respects can be seen as a model for the turnaround (or transition) in German energy policy [known as the Energiewende in German]. For the first time, it has been demonstrated how the energy supply of a commercial building can be provided locally – i.e. independently of the national grid – completely, safely and stably, using nothing but renewable energy from wind.

The key to this is an Energy Complementary System (ECS), which adds to the use of renewable energy by using hydrogen to store energy, thereby guaranteeing the power supply of the application centre at all times. The experiences gathered in the design, implementation, organisation, and funding of the plant go some way to reflecting the challenges which have arisen due to the energy transition in rearranging the existing energy supply.

Small, medium, and large businesses – supported by public funds and with the scientific backing of the Westfälische Hochschule Gelsenkirchen (WHS, University of Applied Sciences) – have come together to create a future-oriented, environmentally friendly energy supply system. Once in full operation, the plant will be available as a public research and development platform to all companies and institutions with an interest in technology for the purposes of their own research.

Throughout all of this, the focus will be on the continual development and optimisation of the plant, to develop workable solutions to the challenges of the energy transition. This unfettered access is designed to promote professional exchange, give new impetus to the necessary developments, and initiate further projects. This will make Herten a central point of contact, not only in Germany, but also at European and international levels, in all matters relating to energy supply systems using wind and hydrogen.

For the town of Herten, the commissioning of the plant represents an additional milestone on the road to strengthening the region’s economic muscle through innovative energy technologies, creating future-proof jobs, and attracting new businesses.

The project also represents a major cornerstone in the efforts of the Land [state] of North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen, NRW) to establish itself as a world-leading location for activities in the field of hydrogen and fuel cell technology, in connection with other company activities, demonstration projects, and development plans being carried out locally. It is a project of excellence, both for the Ruhr metropolitan area and also for North Rhine-Westphalia.

Starting position

The town of Herten began work on the issue of sustainable energy supply long before the turnaround in energy policy decided on by the German federal government. It was back in the 1990s that the foundation stone was laid for a ‘climate concept 2020’, aiming to reduce greenhouse gases and promote the efficient use of (fossil) energy sources, leading to sustainable development of the town.

But it was not just climate change, growing environmental awareness, and finite fossil resources that were – and continue to be – the driving forces behind this development. Structural and demographic changes in the region also played – and continue to play – a decisive role.

As a result of the decline of coal mining (the last of Herten’s three working coal mines closed in 2000) and the deep-seated change to the industry and economy which this brought about, it was a matter of ensuring the future of a region which was also facing a declining population. Necessity became the mother of invention, and the emphasis was very deliberately laid on future technologies in the field of energy provision.

Hydrogen, fuel cells, energy storage, renewable and intelligent energy sources are the catchwords for the future sustainability of the town and region of Herten today. Even back in the early 2000s, the experts in Herten could see great potential in the emerging hydrogen and fuel cell technology to make use of the existing infrastructure and available resources to create new, highly qualified, and future-proof jobs.

With the construction of the h2herten application centre in 2009, the first foundation stone towards making this a reality was laid in the 7.5 ha (18.5 acre) energy cluster in the forward-looking location of Ewald. Its 1800 m² of office space and 1200 m² of technical areas, specially equipped for the needs and requirements of the sector, offer small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups the ideal work and research conditions.

The construction, commissioning, and subsequent daily operations of the wind power electrolysis plant give the location a further advantage to cement Herten’s position as a centre of excellence for sustainable energy systems using renewable energy sources and hydrogen.

Overview of the model project

One of the main challenges of the energy transition is storing regeneratively produced energy. Storage is a basic requirement for ensuring that energy produced from sun and wind is available at all times, whenever and in whatever quantity it is needed, even though it can fluctuate.

Hydrogen is the perfect storage medium to do this, as it can be stored long-term and converted back into electricity when required. Herten’s wind power electrolysis plant puts this principle into practice, right through to feeding into the grid.

The entire form of the plant design is unique, breaking new technological ground. The innovation particularly lies in the requirement-driven interaction between the wind power plant, electrolysis, storage, and fuel cell components and the consumers.


The main objective of the wind power electrolysis plant is to ensure a local, climate-neutral, high-quality, and efficient supply of energy for a commercial building (the h2herten application centre) independent of the national grid, using power and hydrogen generated by the renewable energy source of the wind. Every year, the plant is expected to generate 250 MWh of electricity and around 6500 kg of hydrogen to cover the h2herten application centre’s own needs.

In practice, the challenge lay in using and integrating fluctuating wind energy from the neighbouring wind turbine at Hoppenbruch, in such a way that the estimated energy requirement of the daily load profile of the h2herten application centre can be serviced reliably, stably, and securely.

On top of this, a hydrogen-based Energy Complementary System [see Part 2] was developed to top up the fluctuating wind power. Basically, this means that the plant generates hydrogen in the event of surplus wind energy, and in turn this hydrogen can be converted back into electricity during a calm period, or to balance out peak loads and stabilise the network.

Organisation and project management

Work began on the construction of the wind power electrolysis plant in October 2010. This was preceded by several months of intensive technical and financial planning and preparations, under the project management responsibility of the h2herten application centre GmbH (AHG), together with the Westphalia Energy Institute at Westfälische Hochschule Gelsenkirchen.

The Eco² science-to-business centre of Evonik Degussa GmbH was entrusted with the overall project management. All eight suppliers of components and services were selected during a Europe-wide tendering and award of contracts procedure.

Table 1. Overview of the suppliers for the wind power electrolysis plant project.
Company Components

Gustav-Klein GmbH, Schongau, Germany

Power electronics
Hydrogenics GmbH, Gladbeck, Germany Electrolysis, fuel cells
Rolf Janssen GmbH, Aurich, Germany Electrical engineering
Linde AG, Düsseldorf, Germany Ionic compressor
ProPuls GmbH, Gelsenkirchen, Germany Measurement and control technology (MCT)

Saft Industries, France

Lithium-ion battery
Theissen GmbH, Ochtrup, Germany Pipework
Vako GmbH, Kreuztal, Germany Hydrogen storage/tank



The investment volume for the plant is €3 million (US$3.9 million), with 90% (€2.7 million) of the funding resources covered by contributions from the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia in the framework of the regional economic development programme. The remaining €0.3 million comes from its own resources. The plant has an expected life of 15 years (until 2025).


This project is funded by:

The White Paper on which these articles are based was written by Alexandra Huss of AKOMBE Technologie- & Marktkommunikation (Cologne, Germany), and published in March 2013 by Anwenderzentrum h2herten GmbH.

In Part 2Details of the Energy Complementary System and plant components.

In Part 3: Differences from other model projects in the field of wind power electrolysis.

Technical contacts:

Peter Brautmeier and Dieter Kwapis at the h2herten application centre

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Karl H. Klug at the Westphalia Energy Institute

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This article is featured in:
Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Energy storage including Fuel cells  •  Green building  •  Wind power




22 July 2013
It's good to see a larger scale pilot of the technology. Professor Tony Marmont of Loughborough University had a small scale demonstration plant operational for a number of years at his home in West Beacon Hill Farm - small scale still meant two quite large wind turbines (about 100kW if I recall), a large bank of industrial gas cylinders for the hydrogen storage and some pretty sophisticated piping and control systems to run the fuel cells safely on the generated hydrogen. Technically it worked well, but proved that infrastructure costs were so large that it needed to be scaled up significantly if it were to be a serious contender in the future energy mix.


14 July 2013
Wind hydrogen energy series is an excellent presentation of the state of the art in the field. I was aware of Wind hydrogen project when I worked at Danish for Renewable Energy ,Denmark in 1990. But Wind is intermittent in many places and strong in Southwest monsoon(May-September) in most places in India. On the other hand Solar energy is available in most of the country and is available for more duration. Hydrogen is the Future energy carrier. As such large scale production of Hydrogen from Solar/Wind makes sense in developed and developing countries.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

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