Green hydrogen – the critical element for mobile DERs

Feb. 23, 2022
Lauren Flanagan of Sesame Solar shares insights on how distributed energy resource (DER) systems can integrate solar, battery storage and green hydrogen backup power for mobile, emergency power applications.

In his 2002 groundbreaking book, “The Hydrogen Economy,” Jeremy Rifkin predicted that hydrogen would create a third industrial revolution much as coal and steam did. Solar and wind energy would split water to create hydrogen for electricity and industrial power, with oxygen as a benign byproduct. Hydrogen is the simplest element and the most abundant substance in the visible universe.

According to a report by the Energy Transmissions Commission, hydrogen use is expected to provide as much as 20% of the world’s energy demand by 2050. But transforming hydrogen into clean energy with a no/low carbon footprint seems to always be just out of reach.

The International Energy Agency stated the use of electrolyzers, which employ electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, has doubled over the past five years. Using renewable energy sources such as solar and/or wind to power electrolysis produces “green hydrogen” with a much lower carbon footprint. But once green hydrogen is produced, there are additional challenges in storing, transporting and delivering it in a safe, compact, economical and usable form to provide the needed power.

With extreme weather events and extended grid outages occurring with greater frequency and severity, the need for mobile DERs to meet the needs of those affected has never been stronger.

The ideal design for emergency power application DERs requires a complete solution that can be easily transported and rapidly deployed. The DER must be easy to use with minimal training and maintenance to enable large organizations and first responders to quickly provide power, water, communications, medical and recovery assistance to those in need after extreme weather events or extended grid outages. They must be rugged to withstand austere conditions, and they must have an extended life cycle to provide affordable power.

Sesame Solar’s work in the Caribbean after Hurricane Maria proved our design successful to provide power and medical services to islanders. Our retractable solar arrays deployed on the walls and roof of our nanogrid provided continual solar energy. We store the solar energy produced in lithium iron phosphate batteries to provide the needed internal power and export AC power.

Since then, Sesame Solar has been strategically focused on the market for mobile DERs for emergency and backup power needs for our government, infrastructure, industrial and NGO customers because we saw the impact these DERs can make after a major disaster.

We believe adding green hydrogen for backup power is the next logical step to a fossil-fuel-free emergency solution. We have integrated low-volume electrolyzers to produce green hydrogen, stored in compact, solid-state hydrogen storage tanks to provide backup power without fossil fuels. Additionally, a small wind turbine can be included when and where conditions warrant. The hydrogen fuel cell provides backup power in case of bad weather, higher load demands or longer running hours. The hydrogen fuel cell intakes hydrogen from the onboard hydrogen storage tanks, which store hydrogen at low (<300 psi) pressure increasing the ability to safely transport green hydrogen power when and where it is most needed. The solid-state, hydrogen storage tanks are refilled using the onboard electrolysis system. Once the battery system is replenished by the solar array, it again becomes the primary power source, and the green hydrogen system goes on standby. This cycle creates a 100% renewable, closed-loop energy system.

Mobile DERs are a small piece of the new hydrogen economy, but they can deliver outsized impact after extreme weather events and other emergencies. Green hydrogen-powered DERs are a small gear creating momentum, which can create a flywheel effect in combination with larger gears.

The United States Department of Energy Hydrogen Shot Summit in the fall of 2021 focused stakeholders on the changing needs of energy sources. With these types of pushes from governments and independent exploration into green hydrogen as a reasonable and responsible source of energy, hydrogen will become an increasing source of sustainable power in the coming years.

We know the switch from fossil fuels won’t happen with the flip of a switch, but rather through an evolution in the way we think about incorporating renewable energy into most applications. Sesame Solar will continue to innovate by designing and making mobile, turnkey nanogrid solutions powered by renewable energy sources, including green hydrogen.

Lauren Flanagan is the executive chair and co-founder of Sesame Solar, where she leads strategic initiatives.

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