Suddenly, politicians and industry are talking about power-to-X (P2X) and hydrogen. However, while most players are still in the planning phase, KMW Wind to Gas Energy in Brunsbüttel has already been producing hydrogen from wind power since last - year. Part of it is delivered to a filling station on site, the other part to the gas grid. In Haurup, south of Flensburg, a cooperation around the operator Energie des Nordens is now also feeding hydrogen into the Deudan gas network with a 1-MW electrolyzer. The customers are around 20,000 Greenpeace Energy customers on the ProWindgas tariff. And between Niebüll and Husum, a fuel cell bus is starting regular service, financed by state funds. The green hydrogen used for this comes from two electrolysers operated by GP Joule, which recycle the electricity that would otherwise have to be regulated.
These examples show: The use of hydrogen is already practical today. The abolition of the EEG surcharge will give green hydrogen production a further boost. The national hydrogen strategy adopted by the German government in summer 2020, which the industry hopes will provide important impetus, is also viewed positively.
The BMWi's National Hydrogen Strategy
With the National Hydrogen Strategy (NWS), the German government is creating a coherent framework for action for the future production, transport, use and further use of hydrogen and thus for corresponding innovations and investments. It defines the steps that are necessary to contribute to the achievement of climate targets, to create new value chains for the German economy and to further develop international energy policy cooperation.
Against this background, the NWS pursues the following goals in particular:
Rapid growth in P2X size
Perhaps these factors have contributed to the recent H2 euphoria. In addition, there is a new trend toward larger plants in the two- to three-digit megawatt (MW) class. For example, a 30-MW electrolyzer is being built at the Heide refinery in Schleswig-Holstein as part of the Westküste100 project. The electricity is to be drawn from an offshore wind farm, and the hydrogen produced is to be used industrially in the refinery. By 2025, the partners involved also want to test whether the oxygen produced during electrolysis can be used for cement production. In addition, the chances of producing methanol (CH3OH) for the fuel sector are to be explored. The waste heat from the electrolyzer will also be used to supply heat to a new housing development in the nearby district town of Heide. district town of Heide. Planned costs: 89 million euros.
On the Elbe, people are thinking even bigger. In Hamburg, a consortium comprising Vattenfall, Mitsubishi, Shell and Wärme Hamburg is planning a 100 MW electrolyzer. On the site of the future decommissioned Moorburg coal-fired power plant, the consortium wants to produce green hydrogen for neighboring industrial plants. The city wants to convert the gas networks specifically for this purpose. The port also offers the option of transporting the hydrogen by ship.
Gaining experience instead of profit
Many projects are not yet profitable despite the capped EEG levy. For example, the 250-kW electrolyzer that a citizens' wind farm is building next to its 1.3-MW wind turbine in Ellhöft. The wind turbine fell out of the EEG subsidy at the end of 2020, and the P2X project is expected to tap into revenue in the future. The hydrogen is soon to be used at a filling station in the community of 102 souls supply. "It certainly doesn't pay off yet, but the operators of the Ellhöft wind farm definitely want to do it to gain experience in time for later," says Marko Bartelsen, project engineer at Energie des Nordens, the company planning the electrolyzer on behalf of the Ellhöft wind farm. The economic problem is also one of demand: there are still too few customers for the green hydrogen in mobility as well as in industry and the heating sector, explains Bartelsen. When the CO2 tax takes effect, Bartelsen believes, there will quickly be hydrogen drive concepts for trucks, ships and aviation. Then there will also be business models that pay off.
Power-to-heat is still being slowed down
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of customers in the heat sector. The fact that power-to-heat is still a niche market probably has more to do with the EEG levy. Unlike power-to-gas, it is not yet exempt from the surcharge. Enertrag is proving that power-to-heat could be profitable for both consumers and producers with a wind heat storage facility in the Brandenburg municipality of Nechlin. Since the beginning of last year, it has been supplying almost all of the town's residents with heat from wind power. The technical principle is impressive in its simplicity: excess electricity from the wind farm heats the water in the storage facility via a direct power line.
According to Enertrag, the price is always below the fossil competition: "Heating oil will cost around 55 cents per liter in January 2021, including the CO2 price, which is the equivalent of around 6 cents per kilowatt hour," Matthias Philippi, press spokesman at Enertrag, calculates. "For losses, boiler maintenance and chimney sweep, a surcharge of up to 40 percent is added. This means that heat from an oil-fired heating system costs around 7-8 cents per kilowatt hour. We supply the wind heat for 6 cents." Between 200 and 400 hours a year, the Nechlin wind farm would otherwise have to shut down. This energy now goes into heat production. In 2019, 6,482 gigawatt hours of green power remained unused across Germany, according to the Federal Network Agency, and the trend is rising. The potential for the heating sector would be great.
SINTEG - Intelligent Energy Showcase
In the "Smart Energy Showcase - Digital Agenda for the Energy Transition" (SINTEG) funding program, transferable model solutions for a secure, economical and environmentally compatible energy supply with intermittent 100 percent power generation from renewable energies were developed and demonstrated in large-scale model regions. From 2016 to 2020, more than 300 companies, research institutions and municipalities tested the digital energy future. They have identified challenges and developed solutions for the time after the energy transition.
The problem: The Nechlin wind heat storage facility is currently exempt from the EEG levy under the SINTEG federal research program, but the program is expected to expire in 2021. Without SINTEG, the levy prevents the urgently needed economic operation of such plants. While the electricity sector is already well off with a quota of 50% renewables, the figure for the heating sector is less than 15%.
The power-to-heat plant "Karoline" in Hamburg also shows how difficult it is for these innovations to cope with the legal regulations. The 45-MW plant could supply 13,500 households with heat. The electric boiler should draw its energy via the high-voltage grid from surplus wind power from Schleswig-Holstein. But the 7.1 million euro investment is not yet being used as desired. This is because Hamburg Wärme GmbH would have to pay all electricity price components for the electricity it purchases - making it economically viable to operate only when market prices are negative. "Karoline is an important demonstrator of the feasibility of the energy turnaround," says Werner Beba, project coordinator of the North German Energy Turnaround NEW 4.0. Unfortunately, under the given conditions, one still sees little of it.
CO2 problem child cement
According to a study by the WWF, 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions result from cement production. In Germany, 27.5 million metric tons of cement were consumed annually in 2017/2018, and each metric ton produces around 587 kg of CO2 equivalents. Intensive research is currently being carried out into cement alternatives, but so far without resounding success. Concrete measures relate to the consistent recycling of concrete, the establishment of sustainability criteria for building and civil engineering projects, and the decarbonization of the manufacturing process. On the latter point, electricity generation from renewable energies plays a central role.