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August 23, 2012

POWER TO GAS TECHNOLOGY TURNS EXCESS WIND ENERGY INTO NATURAL GAS

Suffering from a glut of wind-generated electricity, Germany has turned to an international power company to prevent this extra energy from going to waste. Too much clean energy is a hard concept for Americans to fathom, but with over 21,000 wind turbines (as of 2011) Germans are scrambling to use or preserve electricity that won’t

Suffering from a glut of wind-generated electricity, Germany has turned to an international power company to prevent this extra energy from going to waste.

Too much clean energy is a hard concept for Americans to fathom, but with over 21,000 wind turbines (as of 2011) Germans are scrambling to use or preserve electricity that won’t fit into the overflowing electricity grid. To solve this problem, E.ON, the world’s largest investor-owned power and gas company, will build a pilot power plant designed to store energy generated by the wind in the gas grid instead.

Known as power to gas technology, this unique energy storage method turns surplus wind energy into hydrogen (and even methane) through a process of electrolyzation. By separating water into its separate components of hydrogen and oxygen, the hydrogen produced can be stored in the existing natural gas grid for later use. The existing gas network can only handle limited amounts of hydrogen, but further processing ultimately results in the production of synthetic gas, i.e. methane, which can be fed into the grid whenever necessary.

“If Germany expands the use of renewable energy sources in the coming years as planned, the power supply on very windy or sunny days will exceed demand more and more often, and to a growing extent,” said E.ON AG Board member Klaus-Dieter Maubach. ”This will increasingly bring the power grid to the limits of its capacity. E.ON is therefore investing in the development of technologies to store large energy volumes. In this respect, power-to-gas is a promising solution for the future energy supply system.”

There’s just one pesky problem with this seemingly brilliant storage solution: it ignores the whole “clean” part of the clean tech equation. Wind energy is superior not only because it’s domestically produced, but because it creates electricity without the burning of filthy fossil fuels. Is E.ON is taking a clean source of energy and turning it back into something that’s killing the planet? Is this better than letting the energy go to waste? Would the money to build this power-to-gas plant be put to better use simply upgrading the energy grid to handle more wind-generated energy? Or perhaps the development of batteries for large-scale energy storage? You be the judge.

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