German plant mixes renewables and hydrogen

BRANDENBURG, GERMANY - An energy company in the German state of Brandenburg is building a new type of power plant that combines several renewable sources with a hydrogen storage system.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the project "trend-setting." German wind power producer Enertrag earlier this year started construction of the world's first power plant that combines wind turbines, a biogas unit and a hydrogen storage system.

The plant, located in the Uckermark, the region Merkel grew up in, is intelligently combining the fluctuating renewables: Three wind turbines with a total capacity of 6 GW produce green power; when they generate more than needed, for example at night, the excess power is used to convert water into hydrogen, which can be stored.

A biogas unit produces biogas from maize supplied by 21 local farmers; together, the biogas and the stored hydrogen are used in two combined heat and power plants that generate electricity and heat that are fed into the local grid. In the future the hydrogen could also be used by cars with fuel cells, Enertrag says.

With this new power plant, which is due to start producing energy early next year, the company "has found an innovative solution to the challenge of feeding renewables into the grid according to actual demand," Merkel said in a statement in April, when the plant's foundation stone was laid. Matthias Platzeck, the governor of Brandenburg, said the concept has excellent chances of being exported to other states and countries.

Virtual power plants have long combined renewables, and others have mixed wind and solar energy, or wind and biodiesel production. But the $30 million plant is the first time that involves hydrogen to store the fluctuating renewable energy. This has convinced experts. Earlier this month, the power plant concept won the Clean Tech Award, which honors innovative projects and technologies that help save natural resources.

Several local universities are technology partners to the plant. Two entrepreneurs from the public relations industry founded Enertrag, which today is a major wind farm developer. It operates more than 400 wind turbines in Germany, Britain, France and Poland with an annual yield of 1.35 billion kWh of electricity - enough for around 1 million people. It has roughly 250 employees.


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