The answer to renewable energy is literally blowing in the wind (and beaming in the sun), but if we want to use these solar and wind resources, we're going to have to harness hydrogen in a serious way. Or so says energy storage expert, Dirk Uwe Sauer, who is advising his native Germany in its effort to cut its carbon emissions by 90 percent by 2050.
Germany's energy plan is ambitious, to say the least. As it turns its back on both coal and nuclear energy, the country must get 85 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Currently, Germany gets about 22 percent of its energy from such sources.
Sauer, a professor at the Institute for Power Electronics and Electrical Drives in Aachen, reasons that the only feasible way to store this energy is by using hydro-power stations. These would be giant installations storing surplus energy used to power electrolyzers that split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen would then be stored underground (in caverns with 500 million cubic meters of volume) where it could create electricity either in fuel cells, or be converted to methane and used to power gas turbine generators.
Storing hydrogen as so would undoubtedly be a high-tech, high-cost procedure, and Sauer maintains that such a process is key to a future run on clean, renewable energy. But it's not the only factor. Boosting energy conservation is part of the equation. Sauer points out that there are still viable ways for money to be greatly saved, particularly in other areas around the world. He notes that Canadian households, for instance, use more than twice as much power as German households, and that the cheapest kilowatt is often the one that isn’t used. Moreover, energy companies need to be more aggressive in getting users to cut back during peak periods.
It will cost Germany around $33 billion to invest in a hydrogen-happy future, Sauer estimates, which costs everyone about $10 a year. Considering the relatively high personal wealth of citizens in countries like Germany and Canada, it's affordable. But our energy crisis is a global one, not limited to the countries that have the financial means to address it. This prompts the question: What about everybody else on the planet?
Edited by Rachel Ramsey