The Southeast Alaska Power Agency is preparing a grant application to study the feasibility of hydrogen production and storage as an alternative to underutilized hydro.
In a letter written to the Alaska Energy Authority by Petersburg Mayor Al Dwyer, he states that the Southeast Region has experienced significant winter load growth, which has caused, and will continue to cause, both energy and capacity shortages.
According to Dwyer, the shortages are currently met with diesel electric generation that dispatches at a cost differential of four to one over the current hydro cost.
“Many benefits could be realized if it is determined that hydrogen production and storage is feasible for this region,” Dwyer states. “The City of Petersburg supports SEAPA's efforts in studying the feasibility of turning its surplus hydro into stored hydrogen as a source of energy.”
SEAPA operates a transmission system and hydroelectric plants that serve electrical loads in Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg. The SEAPA system is part of a region that is nearly 100 percent hydro based and electrically isolated.
When surplus hydro generation conditions occur, typically all hydro operators in the region are fully utilized; with an isolated system, there is no alternative other than spilling surplus energy over a spillway.
“It only makes sense to do this,” Petersburg Council member Rick Braun said. “If we are wasting water over the spillway, we should try to recover that energy.”
Hydrogen production and storage during times of surplus may be an alternative to spill. This stored energy would then be used for generation either by supplementing diesel combustion or through the operation of fuel cell technology during times of hydroelectric shortages.
“If there is a surplus of hydrogen, it could be sold in the towns so people could drive fuel cell vehicles,” Braun said. “They are very efficient.”
Council member John Jensen explained that Iceland is already doing this with all modes of transportation. In fact, he explained that it is in the process of being mandated that all commerce will be powered by hydrogen.
According to a 2009 article of The Christian Science Monitor, the Icelandic government announced its plan to replace fossil fuels with hydrogen in 1998 and aim to convert the country to hydrogen by 2040.
“The water is just pouring over the spillway right now,” Jensen said. “We should try to save as much as we possibly can.”
SEAPA will hold a meeting in Petersburg from noon - 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19 and 8 a.m. - noon Thursday, Sept. 20.