ITM Power set to offer energy storage for EcoIsland project

The Isle of Wight’s EcoIsland project has enlisted hydrogen specialist ITM Power to address issues of energy intermittency and storage.

ITM will provide technology to convert renewable energy from both domestic generation and power plants to hydrogen for subsequent use in fuel cells and vehicles.

‘The problem when you’re trying to take an island of 142,000 people off-grid is really the storage solution,’ EcoIsland founder David Green told The Engineer.

The EcoIsland project leaves open the possibility of some degree of energy autonomy for households or communities through microgrids

The EcoIsland project aims to make the entire island carbon neutral and energy independent by 2020 (with further ambitions to be a net exporter of energy) based on a combination of solar, wind, geothermal, tidal and waste-to-energy generation.

It has so far secured £200m worth of private funding and enlisted a number of high-profile development partners, including IBM, Toshiba, Cable & Wireless and SilverSpring.

‘The big problem is about demand and supply balancing, finding this magical solution of not increasing the overall flow in the grid but trying to get to a point where you can take surplus generating capacity and store it,hold it and release it when you need it,’ Green said.

‘Things such as PV [photovoltaics] and wind are very spiky in terms of their load, so what’s happening at the moment [on the mainland] is that where there’s surplus generating capacity, I know wind installations that are being paid to turn their turbines off — it seems madness.’

Part of the solution will be smart grid management, using software and novel server architecture, largely provided by IBM at a cost of £10m. However, even with intelligent deployment of capacity it is likely that storage will be needed.

ITM currently manufactures mobile stations that take electricity from the grid to hydrolyse water from a mains supply into hydrogen.

For EcoIsland, it will adapt the technology to integrate into the smart grid and take electricity directly from renewable sources, such as wind and solar. Their largest stations can produce 100kg of hydrogen each day, which, according to ITM chief executive Dr Graham Cooley, is enough to power a fleet of 20 vans or 100 cars.

‘When intermittent power comes in on the network and you would otherwise have to turn it down, for whatever reason that might be, you can turn on an electrolyser to balance that off — that’s genuine energy storage,’ Cooley told The Engineer.

‘With our technology, you can turn it on and off very quickly, that’s the real breakthrough. The aspiration is to have four of those [100 kg/d units], which constitutes 1MW of load that you can turn on and off in a second.’

ITM has also developed domestic energy generation and storage solutions such as Hbox Solar, which can be coupled to PV arrays of up to 1,300W peak output to give a maximum of 1.5kg of hydrogen per day.

Indeed, the EcoIsland project leaves open the possibility of some degree of energy autonomy for households or communities through microgrids. So far, the project has implemented a £25m project to install PV panels on 3,500 social houses, in addition to some 500 air-source heat pumps.

However, larger-scale generating projects are currently still at the early development phase. Initial explorations suggest the Isle has significant potential for geothermal generation, with hot granite seams at around 1.8km deep — far closer to the surface than similar projects on the mainland. It has also identified potential sites for tidal generation, including the western channel between the Isle and the mainland. Wind-farm schemes have run into significant obstacles, however, with major opposition from residents.

‘We’ve volunteered to be the living laboratory, it’s all about us being the testbed, the guinea pigs, and one thing I’ve guaranteed is that we won’t get it all right,’ Green said.