Editorial Feature

The Future of Hydrogen-Based Remote Area Power Systems

Recent years have seen a vast amount of research projects investigate how hydrogen can be used to help the world switch to cleaner energy supplies and reduce its carbon footprint. As a result of much research and development, several hydrogen applications in the energy sector have emerged that present opportunities for the sector of green technology, as well as economic benefits.

hydrogen, remote area power systems

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In 2018, CSIRO created a roadmap highlighting these opportunities called The National Hydrogen Roadmap. The document outlines the various ways in which hydrogen can be leveraged in transport, remote area power systems (RAPS), industrial feedstocks, electricity grid farming, energy storage, heat generation, and synthetic fuel production. Here, we focus on the benefits of hydrogen-based RAPS and what the future holds for this technology.

Hydrogen and Clean Energy

As the world makes efforts to shift from fossil-fueled energy towards low-emissions energy choices, hydrogen has emerged as an industry that is full of opportunities to facilitate this shift, helping the world reduce its emissions while providing economic benefit to countries that develop hydrogen industries to their full potential.

The global hydrogen market is predicted to be valued at $155 billion by next year. Around the world, a series of maturing technologies in relevant sectors are pushing the hydrogen industry to its ‘tipping point’, helping to fuel the industry’s growth and allow it to reach its full potential.

Hydrogen is both a clean and versatile energy carrier and feedstock. Switching to hydrogen from alternative sources helps industries to decarbonize and move closer towards the carbon neutral goals of the Paris Agreement.

The reason that carbon has emerged as a resource of great potential in a world that is drastically fighting against climate change is that it is primarily derived from splitting water or produced as a byproduct of fossil fuel activities. To date, hydrogen has made a significant impact in the energy sector. However, the full potential of hydrogen has yet to be realized.

Here, we discuss how hydrogen can be leveraged into hydrogen-based RAPS to replace traditional, diesel-based systems that have huge carbon footprints. As a result, hydrogen-based systems, which are rapidly becoming more cost-effective, could replace diesel-based systems and help to cut the emissions associated with power generation.

Hydrogen-Based Remote Area Power Systems

Remote area or stand-alone power systems (RAPS) are used by remote communities. Current RAPS are mostly diesel-based, and a major contributor to carbon emissions. They are also costly due to the need to transport fuel to remote communities, again, adding to the carbon footprint of the process unless clean transportation is used.

The cost of diesel-based systems is high, at $440/MWh. The cost to the environment is also high, with diesel generators having a negative effect on the surrounding air quality. Overall, the detrimental impact of traditional RAPS on the environment is considerable.

With predictions that the cost of hydrogen will fall, along with the price of hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen-based RAPS, which rely on dedicated renewable hydrogen energy inputs, are emerging as a cost-effective alternative with a significantly lower carbon footprint.

By 2025, it is expected that the price of hydrogen will have dropped sufficiently to make it commercially competitive with diesel. Hydrogen-based systems also have the added advantage of performing better under adverse conditions such as those frequently experienced in the remote locations where they are needed.

Hydrogen-based systems feature low-pressure storage (including batteries for short-term frequency control) and a hydrogen fuel cell. While other alternative systems to the current diesel-based systems have emerged, these often rely solely on batteries. The benefit of hydrogen systems over these alternatives is that hydrogen is more cost-effective at scale, it can store energy for longer periods, and hydrogen systems can also withstand the harsher conditions associated with remote areas.

In the future, there is a potential for both centralized and decentralized hydrogen-based RAPS models to be developed. Centralized versions could be produced by large-scale renewables and electrolysis, with the hydrogen produced being stored in a centralized fuel cell or turbine. Japan is home to a precedent for this centralized type. Although more development is needed before these systems can be widely adopted.

The next step towards developing hydrogen-based RAPS is to trial them in small remote locations over the coming years to observe how they operate and make improvements based on these observations. Once the technology is ready, it has the potential to completely replace diesel-based systems, helping to cut the carbon emissions associated with energy generation, reduce energy costs for remote locations, and improve the air quality in locations that currently depend on diesel-based systems.

References and Further Reading

IEA (2019) The Future of Hydrogen [Online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/the-future-of-hydrogen

Bezdek, R. (2019) The hydrogen economy and jobs of the future. Renewable Energy and Environmental Sustainability, 4, p.1. https://www.rees-journal.org/articles/rees/full_html/2019/01/rees180005s/rees180005s.html

CSIRO. National Hydrogen Roadmap [Online] Available at: https://www.csiro.au/en/work-with-us/services/consultancy-strategic-advice-services/csiro-futures/energy-and-resources/national-hydrogen-roadmap

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Sarah Moore

Written by

Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.

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