Technology About Gas

Renewables into mainstream with power-to-gas?

 By Mike Scott
About gas

As renewable energy continues to become cheaper, the amount of installed capacity will continue to grow. But technologies such as wind and solar are becoming victims of their own success, putting increasing strain on transmission and distribution infrastructure that was not designed to handle such intermittent power production…

Energy storage is the key to dealing with this and much work is being done to perfect battery technology. However, for now, batteries remain costly, slow to charge and bulky. But a number of companies are taking another approach to storing renewable electricity by turning it into gas. The process uses clean electricity to split water to create oxygen and hydrogen, which can be stored to provide energy when needed. And by adding CO2 that has been captured from industrial facilities or power stations, it is possible to create carbon-neutral methane, or natural gas, sequestering greenhouse gas emissions and displacing other fossil fuels.

Power to gas (P2G) has an innate advantage over battery energy storage – its flexibility. While batteries can provide electricity, P2G also allows electricity to be transferred into other sectors including heat, transportation (via CNG and LNG-fueled vehicles) and industrial use. It can fulfill many of the same functions as batteries by providing electricity on demand to compensate for the variable output of wind and solar projects, thus allowing greater amounts of renewable energy generation to be integrated into the electricity network. Furthermore, it uses existing infrastructure – the natural gas network, storage facilities and gas-fired power stations – and provides a more efficient way to transport energy over long distances than electricity lines. P2G could even work in tandem with batteries — with batteries providing instant energy in response to fluctuations in output while gas-fueled power stations, which take slightly longer to come on line, providing a “load-following” service as well as longer-term energy storage.

ITM Power's HGas generates hydrogen to be directly injected into the gas network as Power to Gas (Bexi81, Wikimedia)

Electrochaea, a spin-out from the University of Chicago, has developed a process that uses a single cell micro-organism as a catalyst to convert surplus electricity from wind or solar projects into methane. It says the process is more efficient, cheaper and more flexible than conventional thermochemical methanation processes. Meanwhile, UK fuel cell company ITM claims that the EU’s recently released “Winter Package” of energy reforms will provide a major boost to power-to-gas technologies by including a definition of energy storage that includes power-to-gas. “The directives will have a significant effect on the uptake of Power-to-Gas (P2G) energy storage and green hydrogen fuel made by electrolysis across Europe,” CEO Dr Graham Cooley says, adding that they create a level playing field for generation, storage and demand response.

ITM Power Hydrogen Station (Bexim, Wikimedia)

Also positive, Cooley adds, is the extension of guarantee of origin certification to hydrogen and other gases from renewable sources. This provides “a consistent means of proving the origin of the gas to consumers so that they can be confident that they are using low-carbon gas.” More gas might seem a counter-intuitive way to advance the low-carbon economy, but power-to-gas technology may have a crucial role to play.

SEE MORE: The new energy storage revolution by Amanda Saint

about the author
Mike Scott
Journalist. Environment, Sustainability, Climate Change, Investing, Energy, Supply Chain, Transport, Circular Economy, Stranded Assets, ESG, Smart Cities, Wealth Management, Family Offices, Asset Management, EU.