The inability of renewable energy to provide baseload power remains a challenge, although some solutions that are in the pipeline–like battery energy storage (BES) or hydrogen—are promising and could help improve our existing infrastructure.
In addition to the transition toward more renewable energy, full electrification of the transport sector also will pose a challenge for the power grid: 6 pm will not be an efficient time for vehicle charging in terms of cost as most workers will have finished work and plugged in their battery energy vehicle (BEV). Apart from the rising energy demand and the positive correlating costs, grid stability will be an even more significant concern.
Anyone who read the book ‘Blackout’ will understand that the power grid is a susceptible instrument that is being continuously monitored. The disaster caused in the case of a blackout would be devastating. Hence, grid stability should play a more significant role within all the electrification plans of governments and NGOs to ensure the balance between power generation and consumption.
On 10 January 2019, for example, the utility frequency of Europe’s power grid dropped to 49.8 hertz compared to the usual 50 hertz causing a near-blackout. This deviation may not sound like much. However, this was the exact threshold at which security measures kicked in to successfully prevent a massive shutdown.
Such disruptions are not infrequent but are happening (albeit on a smaller scale) up to several hundred times a year. The total number of such incidents has increased dramatically over the last few years as severe weather events cause power plants to shut down.
Cases in which power grid shutdowns couldn’t be prevented are increasing as well. The year 2019 saw all of Uruguay, most of Argentina and Paraguay (a total of 48 million people) without electricity on 16 June.
To avoid increasing instability of the power grid in combination with the ever-increasing energy hunger triggered by the ambitious energy transition targets (especially within the transport sector) massive investments into energy infrastructures are a must. We don’t feel that this topic gets enough attention and needs to be stressed further.
Considering the complexity and bureaucracy involved in the planning and construction of new high-voltage lines, we have to question whether rising demand is aligned with sufficient investments in infrastructure within the same horizon.
One approach to addressing this issue might be include a further decentralization of the power grid as well as the implementation of smart microgrids. This, of course, depends on consumers investing in solar panels, storage units and charging station at their homes.
Also, smart solutions, such as BEV batteries for grid balancing while plugged into the charging station, will contribute to mastering these issues.
In contrast, the infrastructure for a hydrogen-dominated transport sector is already in place through (adoptable) filling stations that crowd the landscape. So, while a battery energy vehicle may need to charge for 35 minutes to achieve a 100-mile range, hydrogen-fueled cars may be filled up within about 5 minutes to achieve a 300-mile range. As a consequence, we will not only need the existing number of gas stations for BEV but an additional seven times as many each equipped with different models of charging plugs. Surely, you will agree that this will cause some troubles in terms of available space.
The biggest problem we see in hydrogen fuel stations is the cost to establish a sufficient network. However, the cost won’t drop until more hydrogen vehicles are being bought; more hydrogen vehicles won’t be bought unless the costs drop, a paradox that lends itself to public policy intervention.
On a macro view in regards to long-distance hydrogen transport we already have dedicated the blog article “The time of Hydrogen is NOW!” . There, we outlined several options of hydrogen transportation: “Much like LNG, due to its chemical state, it can be transported in the form of (i) gas or liquid via pipeline, (ii) transformed into electricity via the grid, as well as (iii) in the shape of methane and fuel via fright traffic. In addition, the transport of hydrogen can build on existing infrastructure such as millions of kilometres of natural gas and petroleum pipelines. Hence, reducing infrastructural costs and time expenditure to a minimum results in a distinctive competency of this industry.”
The hydrogen sector may require an entrepreneur with a vision (like Elon Musk in his work for BEV) to push hydrogen to the next level and make it accessible for everyone.