Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) has joined with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the National Fuel Cell Research Center (NFCRC) to create and test a carbon-free, power-to-gas system for the first time in the United States. The technology converts electricity into gaseous energy and could provide North America with a large-scale, cost-effective solution for storing excess energy produced from renewable sources.
The demonstration projects will be located at the NFCRC at the University of California, Irvine, and NREL’s laboratories in Golden, Colorado.
Using electrolyzer-based methods, the power-to-gas concept uses electricity from renewable sources, such as solar and wind power, to make carbon-free hydrogen gas by breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then be converted to natural gas and stored to meet future energy needs. It can also be used as a multi-purpose energy source for vehicles, micro-turbines, fuel cells or other equipment.
California is expected to produce 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources within five years, and Gov. Jerry Brown’s new energy goals call for increasing that level to 50 percent by 2030. As the amount of power produced from renewable resources increases, storing it for later use is a worldwide challenge. Batteries, a standard form of storage, require significant capital investment but have limited capacity and relatively short duration. Power-to-gas offers longer term storage capacity.
Commercial-scale power-to-gas systems are already being used in Germany and are being explored globally as a means to convert and store large amounts of wind and solar power during times of excess supply. Such a commercial system could enable natural gas utilities across North America to use their existing pipeline infrastructure essentially as a large, cost-effective “battery” to store and deliver clean, renewable energy on demand. The power-to-gas demonstrations will assess the feasibility and benefits of doing this.
SoCalGas’ power-to-gas project is expected to provide valuable data on the dynamics of hydrogen production in a system flush with renewable electricity. Initial project results are expected by the end of the year.