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.
Differences from other model projects in the field of wind power electrolysis
Unlike other pilot plants for wind power electrolysis, the Herten plant can be operated without any connection to the national grid (isolated operation). In future, it will be increasingly important for the effective and efficient integration of regeneratively produced electricity into the electricity supply system for power to be used where it is generated, either for own consumption or for direct sales.
To a certain extent (mini grid), the plant constitutes an end-to-end energy system consisting of regenerative feed-in, energy storage, and energy use under actual boundary conditions.
Lessons learned from construction and commissioning
Given the innovative nature of the plant for future-proof supply systems using renewable energies in the framework of the energy transition in Germany (Energiewende), the project fulfils every expectation and can be used as a model.
Marketable components requirement
It was not until an advanced state of progress in the project had been achieved, together with the cost structures with fuel cells, lithium-ion batteries and power electronics, that it became possible to implement the project under the existing framework conditions. This also applies with regard to progress in the field of standardisation, and the definition of technical safety procedures when using hydrogen systems.
Even so, particularly in the field of power electronics, individual components had to be adjusted to the specific requirements of the Energy Complementary System (ECS). For example, a bidirectional inverter of a kind which was not previously available on the market was developed.
Pioneering spirit and locational advantages pay off
During the competitive tendering procedure, it became clear that only a very limited number of suppliers were able to meet the requirements, particularly in terms of guarantees and warranties and contractually binding component lifetimes.
This required a considerable degree of pioneering spirit from all those involved: confidence and a willingness to go the extra mile – far beyond the agreed levels of performance – to make the plant a reality at the currently available level of quality.
The Herten site proved to have a massive advantage, as the components needed for the project were already largely available in the Ruhr region and North Rhine-Westphalia.
Managing time and complexity
The plant is a pilot which was devised as a complex and highly exacting research and development platform for future energy systems. The interfaces have an important role to play in making a hydrogen Energy Complementary System into a reliable and highly efficient system.
During the construction and commissioning phases, it became apparent that although each individual component had been fully developed in line with the current state-of-the-art, it was not possible to interconnect them at that point without further work.
This meant that it was not the specific function of an individual component which led to any adverse effects or breakdown of the system as a whole, but that any such cases were due largely to the underdeveloped interconnection between the individual components.
The safe integration of the ECS into the existing building technology also required both confidence and patience from all those involved. The highly complex tendering and award procedure at European level also took up disproportionate amounts of time, which ended up leading to a delay in project delivery of around 12 months between the design release and commissioning stages.
The construction and commissioning of the wind power electrolysis plant saw two major milestones reached. During the imminent daily operations phase, practical experience will be gathered, and the underlying concept can be definitively assessed.
Creation of energy lab, and options for external use
Once the plant is commissioned, Westfälische Hochschule Gelsenkirchen will have responsibility for scientific support. There are plans in place for the plant to become part of the course of study, in the form of an energy laboratory.
As well as the scientific use through the WHS, interested companies or project teams will have the opportunity to use the plant as a platform for demonstrations and trials for the purposes of their own research and development activities, once it is up and running. For the town and district of Herten, the plant is already seen as a backbone for future progress with the climate concept 2020+.
Further development and optimisation
In addition to these research and development activities, plant technology is constantly moving forward, with a focus on the optimisation and development of performance and energy management – the keywords here are load management, and supply and demand management.
The greatest challenge is maintaining a balance between supply and demand of electricity, using the various storage media (hydrogen and batteries) and converters (electrolyser, fuel cells, batteries), thereby guaranteeing high grid quality.
Other regenerative energy systems, such as photovoltaics, can also be fed in via the wind turbine simulator. It is also possible to simulate the load behaviour of the h2herten application centre (as required). As soon as reliable operational experiences are in place, it should also be possible to make use of the waste heat generated in the process for additional energy provision.
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 1: The development of the h2herten application centre.
In Part 2: Details of the Energy Complementary System and plant components.
Peter Brautmeier and Dieter Kwapis at the h2herten application centre
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Karl H. Klug at the Westphalia Energy Institute