Wind-to-Hydrogen: GE's Perspective
By EV World
You might call it the perfect "marriage" of the hydrogen economy; making clean, renewable hydrogen from free, inexhaustible wind. Hydrogen allows an intermittent energy source like wind to be "stored" and more easily distributed, where it can be used to make both electricity and purified,hot water on-demand.
So, it would seem a very logical step for one of the world's largest corporations, General Electric, who three years ago bought Enron's wind energy division, creating GE Wind Power, to investigate whether or not the marriage is, in fact, doable in a practical, economic sense.
GE's chief wind power engineer, Craig Christenson, was on hand at the February 25, 2005 conclave of the California Hydrogen Business Council to talk about just that topic, and what he had to say was pretty revealing, starting with his depiction of the cost of various technologies for generating electricity.
According to Christenson, Combined Cycle Gas Turbines are currently the most efficient and economical way for a utility to generate power, followed by conventional gas turbines, coal and finally nuclear. Interestingly, he pointed out that there is debate about the true cost of nuclear since disposal and storage costs are not included in the calculation.
On the renewable side, wind power is, by far, the most economical.
"That's what's driving our business globally", he stated, adding "why is General Electric interested in wind? It's a booming business". The wind turbine part of GE now has 1,700 employees worldwide.
"We've gone from $60 million dollars in business in 1994 to last year, $1.3 billion per year. As a GE company now, we have orders now over $3 billion for this year in wind power delivery".
"In the three years since we became GE, we have more than doubled our engineering staff. We've grown our R&D budget by about four times, and General Electric Company is firmly behind wind power".
Christenson pointed out that in the last couple years, GE has sold about 1,000 1.5 megawatt turbines in the United States alone, pointing out that most of them are in the upper Midwest, but also in the Northeast and West Coast.
"By the time we're done this year, we will deliver another 1,500 machines...", he said.
But what's the potential of using some of that wind power to electrolyze water into hydrogen? He talks about this critical question in the rest of his address, referring to two recent studies GE has done that looks at the challenges technologically and economically to making hydrogen from the wind.
The bottom line is, while it is currently feasible, the hydrogen will be expensive, on the order of $4 a kilogram,which is roughly equivalent to the energy found in a gallon of gasoline.
To hear Christenson's complete remarks, use the Flash-based MP3 player just below the wind turbine picture. The address is 20:00 minutes in length. You can also download the 4.8 MB MP3 file to your computer hard drive for later playback on your favorite MP3 device.
EV World extends its thanks to the California Hydrogen Business Council for permitting us to record and podcast all of the presentations.