Where is the hydrogen?

A week has passed since the 2013 conference of the German Renewable Energy Research Association conference. As promised I would like to put up a little summary of all the talks and presentations. It was a nicely organised event, a great opportunity to meet people working and researching in renewable energy. A perfect place to get a complete overview of what is in the focus of research today.
Have a look for yourself and find the Slides of the conference here

And that’s where I want to come back to the title of this post: where is the hydrogen?

When I talked to one of the professors also attending the conference she told me that a good way of seeing such an event as a base line of what is cutting edge right now. And apparently hydrogen isn’t as much in the focus as I thought (and hoped).

Integrating heat and electricity
The main focus of most talks was according to the motto of the conference, the integration of heat and electricity generation. An important topic, as in Germany the two are very disconnected still.

Integrating the two systems means that more heat is produced electrically with excess renewable electricity. This is an excellent way of getting rid of electricity. I’m not sure though if in most cases it is the best way.
No doubts: if we want to change over to 100% renewables we have to integrate heat into the system because now heat for homes is produced with wood and oil for the most. In winter it makes sense to let excess electricity produce heat instead of e.g. shutting down wind turbines to prevent the excess.

First of all, in winter there is less light, so there’s less solar energy as well. Which means that generally there is less excess to put to heat. In summer, on the other hand, there is loads of solar energy. But nobody really needs to heat up his house.

And this is the point where I have to ask again: where is the hydrogen?

Storing energy in high quality
Producing heat from electricity is a way to store energy, or at least to use it instead of not using it at all.
But putting electricity to heat also means to convert high quality energy in a low quality form of energy, because most heat storages are irreversible. So there is no way to make electricity again, when you need it.

Many of the talks focused on very concrete solutions of how to produce heat for private houses with excess electricity. While this can be a good solution in winter I believe that it is not when you look at the whole year.
There is simply no need to convert electricity to heat in summer. Whereas if converted to hydrogen it could converted to heat and electricity in winter, when and how it is needed.

Maybe the topics of the conference can be seen as the focus of research of the past year, presenting the results, and hydrogen is the focus right now, but not too many like to talk about it yet. I definitely hope so.

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