New Solar Array Boosts German Hydrogen Project

As part of a new Renewable Energy project incorporating solar, hydrogen generation and wastewater treatment, a 97 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) array will be feeding into the German electric grid.

Barth, Germany – February 10, 2003 [] The Shell solar modules, mounted on sun tracking systems from Germany-based Deger were supplied and installed by Kustensolar GmBH and take advantage of Germany’s favorable net metering opportunities. The second major component of the project is the installation of HOGEN 380 hydrogen generator. Connecticut based Proton Energy Systems, Inc. (PES), designed and supplied to unit to provide the customers with a commercial-grade hydrogen generating capacity. The hydrogen will be used to supply the MAN fuel cell bus that contains a fuel cell manufactured by Proton Motors, a German company unrelated to PES. Although the HOGEN’s electric demands (80 kW) could be entirely supplied by the solar array, net metering turns out to make the best economic sense said officials at PES. “In Germany the grid pays much more for solar than is the case in the U.S.,” said Dave Wolff of PES. “It’s more advantageous for the PV to dump entirely into the grid then run the HOGEN of off the grid.” In another efficient use of available resources, the excess oxygen from the HOGEN unit will be used at a nearby wastewater treatment plant to accelerate the treatment process. “Using the excess oxygen for wastewater treatment is an interesting idea and I believe it’s the first time that an electrolysis system has been used in this way,” said Wolff. Most commercially produced hydrogen is obtained from finite fossil fuels like natural gas, while PES’s generators need only an electrical current and a water supply. PV powered electrolysis for hydrogen is generally not cost-competitive at the current time compared to fossil fuels said Wolff but electrolysis itself is the only way to create hydrogen from Renewable Energy. Anticipating such demand, PES now offers the HOGEN RE line of hydrogen generators that are specifically designed to be connected to both grid electricity, and Renewable Energy sources such as solar, wind, or hydro. An important feature of the units is their ability to compensate for fluctuations in the electric sources, said Tom Maloney of PES who was part of the technical team that helped design the larger 380 unit for Germany. At night or cloudy days the units will adjust the ratio of grid AC power to renewably generated DC power to continue to run at full capacity. “The DC and AC inputs have the brains to take a preference,” said Maloney. “That’s the idea, blend or one or the other, which sounds like a perfect match for regenerative fuel cell system.” Fuel cells, which run off hydrogen, have come under increasing attention since the Bush Administration’s proposal for US$1.2 billion in funding for hydrogen and fuel cell development.
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