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Electrolysis and Hydrogen: A perfect complement to Gulf’s Renewable Energy
May 22, 2018, 12:48 pm

As countries across the Gulf region continue the exciting process of expanding their capacity in solar and wind power generation, they will increasingly face two main renewable energy challenges. First, the amount of electricity that they produce fluctuates depending on the amount of sunlight and wind. Second, when they produce electricity it generally cannot be changed to reflect demand from consumers and the grid. Being able to store this energy for use later and to do so in a way that addresses the fluctuating supply is one solution.

One of the most promising of these solutions is the use of electrolysis to produce the highly versatile element hydrogen. Kuwait is embracing renewables: the country is already generating more than 50 Megawatts (MW) of electricity from thermal solar plant, a 10 MW photovoltaic plant solar power and 10 MW from wind power. It aims to meet 15% of its electricity demand from renewable sources by 2030, and it is developing the 1,500-MW Dibdibah solar PV power plant. However, like the rest of the world, Kuwait faces the challenge that solar and wind energy produce electricity only when there is sunlight and wind and even when there isn’t necessarily demand in the grid.

A passing cloud can cause a sudden large drop in electricity flowing into the grid, or the wind could pick up in the middle of the night when everyone’s asleep and demand is low. But electrical grids, and the power demand they feed, require a steady supply. Moreover, while a gasfired power plant can raise or lower output to meet demand, as already noted, solar and wind plants generally cannot do that. To address these issues, the world, and the Gulf region in particular, are increasingly looking to energy storage, as it solves both issues. It collects energy when it’s not needed by the grid and then releases it to the grid when it is needed.

It also can be used to smooth out the fluctuating increases and decreases in supply from solar and wind farms, thereby helping stabilize the grid. Batteries, whether the chemical form found in phones and computers, or alternative types, such as compressed air or pumped water storage, are one solution. However, as renewable energy begins to comprise a larger and larger share of the energy mix, many think that battery storage at such scale required for large grid-connected networks will be too expensive or will not have enough capacity. But there is another solution: hydrogen produced by electrolysis. Hydrogen and the electrolysis process are particularly exciting for countries such as Kuwait that are located in sun-drenched regions. Electrolysis is the process of running an electric current – in this case produced by renewable energy – through water to produce oxygen and hydrogen. 

The Siemens SILYZER solution is an example of this technology. SILYZER can efficiently transform the energy produced by wind and solar generating facilities into hydrogen. This is not only helpful for the renewable sector but also for industry, transportation, and power-to-gas solutions and networks. Siemens has already successfully put several of these renewable energy-powered systems into continuous operation for customers in Europe, including a 5-megawatt (MW) system in Germany.

The significantly greater solar potential of the Gulf, compared to Europe, is one reason Siemens is already in discussions with potential customers in the region regarding plants of up to 400 MW. For national utilities such as the Ministry of Electricity and Water, the SILYZER process could use excess electricity produced by renewable energy to produce hydrogen that can be stored for months before being used as fuel in a power plant to produce electricity when required. But hydrogen’s versatility means it can do a lot more. It is relatively easy to transport, so it can be used in fuel cells to power vehicles – from cars to ships to trains.

Moreover, the hydrogen used in car and truck fuel cells does not have to be transported to filling stations. The SILYZER process can be scaled up or down, allowing hydrogen to be produced safely and cleanly onsite. Using onsite renewable energy, the system would produce ‘green hydrogen’ for the refueling of future fuel cell vehicles.

This is an efficient and flexible solution for producing hydrogen. Beyond its use as a fuel, hydrogen is an important material for industry, including pharmaceuticals and food manufacturing, while in the semiconductor industry, hydrogen serves as a carrier gas. Hydrogen also is an important input in the petrochemical industry, serving as a building block for many compounds, such as ammonia, methane and other hydrocarbons used in the production of plastics. All of these are major industries in the Gulf.

Significantly, the hydrogen currently used in these processes is produced using natural gas. By using SILYZER to produce hydrogen instead, natural gas could be put to more valuable and value-added uses. Another exciting use of hydrogen produced with renewable energy, is to combine it with carbon dioxide to generate methane, which can be used as fuel for power generation.

This results in a neutral CO2 balance, because when the methane is consumed it releases the same amount of CO2 that was previously fixed. Siemens plans to work with partners in Kuwait and across the region to unlock the enormous potential of renewable energy. Drawing on innovations like SILYZER and long-established collaborations, Siemens can support Kuwait’s leadership in fulfilling its vision for long-term, sustainable development powered in part by renewable energy. 

By Herbert Klausner CEO Siemens Kuwait

Exclusive to The Times, Kuwait 

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