Negawatts and hydrogen – breakthroughs on the agenda at All-Energy Australia

The energy space is humming with breakthroughs, new business models and technological innovations – such as the move to negawatts, indicating energy savings, and the exciting advances in hydrogen being used to export wind and solar power.

These ideas and more will come into the spotlight at the All-Energy Australia conference on 11 and 12 October in Melbourne.

Among the highlights will be ARENA’s Philip Cohn who will present on the agency’s unique approach to improving the ability of the grid to manage peak demand – without the need for a new power station.

Instead, a demand response program, run in conjunction with the Australian Energy Market Operator, aims to harness the power of the negawatt across thousands of households and businesses.

The initial aim when the project called for expressions of interest in May this year was to save about 160 megawatts that could be dispatched via the national electricity market to parts of the grid experiencing peak events due to extreme weather or other eventualities.

This additional capacity can help avoid unplanned outages, Cohn says.

Dr Sarb Giddey, CSIRO

Applicants to the program included retailers, networks, demand response aggregators and technology companies, as well as some individual large commercial and industrial energy users who have offered to reduce their use during peak demand spikes.

Households and small businesses are set to benefit, as they can sign up to reduce demand when needed and be paid for the negawatts that get used by someone else.

The program has $37.5 million funding, $30 million of that from ARENA and the balance from the NSW government. Successful applicants will be announced in October, with the aim to have everything in place to switch on in time for summer.

Cohn says there has been a broad range of technology represented among applicants, including direct load control technologies that can remotely switch equipment at customer sites on or off, or can communicate with the customer’s control rooms.

In terms of households, there are technologies that can provide remote control of appliances, airconditioning, batteries, pool pumps and EV chargers.

Other proponents are offering behaviour change approaches for residential energy customers, with direct messaging to households participating to turn off or turn down energy-using items during peak events.

Cohn says a core part of the intent with the project, in addition to solving potential energy shortfalls, is to test the maturity of the new technologies and business models that are emerging in the energy space.

The program can also help these start-ups commercialise their offerings, he says.

“A key part of it is also stimulating the demand response market generally to help those [start ups] scale up and reach market maturity.”

One of the features of the emerging energy technologies sector is the high level of collaboration between both the smaller newcomers and the larger, more traditional and established players, Cohn says.

“There is great value when you pull technologies together, and great opportunities for collaboration.”

The established firms are also looking to leverage the innovators in order to enter new markets, he says.

The new focus on demand-side is a shift from the traditional approach to looking at energy supply. Instead of the business-as-usual tactic of looking to build more power stations and poles and wires – which is both costly and takes a substantial amount of time – ARENA started working on the demand response initiative in April and expects it to be live before the end of the year.

Unlike a new power station, which may only be brought online a few times a year for peak events, Cohn says demand response engages consumers, reduces energy costs and reduces emissions all at once – and will be achieving it all from a “standing start” many years before a new coal or gas-fired plant could even begin to be operational.

What’s hot about hydrogen

Dr Sarb Giddey leads CSIRO’s Electrochemical Energy Systems team in the Low Emissions Technologies program.

He will be presenting at All-Energy Australia about how we can use hydrogen to export solar and wind energy.

How does that work, you ask?

Up until now, Dr Giddey explains, hydrogen was generally produced from fossil fuels – around 95 per cent of it is produced from natural gas, coal and oil.

The fact the process emits “a lot” of CO2 is not ideal, so Dr Giddey and his team have developed a low cost and highly efficient technology to electrolyse water to produce hydrogen gas and then convert it to ammonia – an easily transportable fuel.

This process can also be powered by renewable energy, he explains, and that’s where the big opportunity is for Australia.

Australia’s current NEM installed capacity is around 45 gigawatts. The country has more than 25,000 gigawatts of potential in renewable energy sources that remain largely untapped.

The type of resource varies around the country. In the north western desert areas, we have the world’s highest rate of solar radiation per square metre. In South Australia and Victoria, there are some of the world’s best sites for capturing wind power.

The cost of solar and wind is now very competitive compared to coal power, and to build more coal capacity would have a higher cost than constructing more solar and wind, which have the added advantage of zero emission electricity.

“We can use these renewable sources also for the production of easily transportable fuels for export,” Dr Giddey says.

Surplus renewable capacity can be used to convert water to hydrogen, and then hydrogen into fuel feedstocks such as methanol or to produce ammonia that can be used as an energy carrier or for other products such as fertilisers to replace fossil-fuel derived versions.

His team has developed an electrolyser for distributed hydrogen production that can be connected directly to wind or solar electrical supplies.

Dr Giddey says liquid hydrogen is a high energy density fuel, but there is not the infrastructure in place currently to ship it offshore.

“Methanol and ammonia, we already have the infrastructure in place for those.”

Two of our near neighbours, Japan and South Korea, have enormous potential as markets, Dr Giddey says.

This is because they are low on both fossil fuel reserves and on renewable capacity.

Methanol and ammonia produced from renewable sources, once shipped overseas, can be used directly or converted back to hydrogen for various applications. There are already applications emerging that use hydrogen as a fuel source. Hydrogen fuel cells can be used to provide power for residential, civil and transport applications.

“Five kilograms of hydrogen will give a range of between 500 to 700km [in a car],” Dr Giddey says.

There is already a project underway in Canberra, where a Siemens electrolyser powered by wind energy is being installed that will supply the fuel for Hyundai hydrogen-powered cars that are being brought to the city.

Registration for All-Energy Australia is free – for further details and to register go here.

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