This interview was featured ahead of The International Microgrid Event.
ATCO believes Australia’s gas distribution network will play a key role in the future energy mix, bringing natural gas and new ‘clean’ gas, including hydrogen, to customers playing a central role in reducing energy costs and carbon emissions and an ideal complement to intermittent renewable energy like wind and solar.
To further explore this concept ATCO is developing an industry leading ATCO Hydrogen Microgrid, known as Clean Energy Innovation Hub (CEIH), based at the company’s Jandakot Operations facility in Western Australia.
Ahead of the International Microgrid Summit 2020, IQPC chats to Stevan Green, President of ATCO Gas Division Australia. Stevan explores the major challenges facing Australia’s renewable energy market, and delves into how ATCO is working to overcome these challenges through the ATCO Hydrogen Microgrid project, which incorporates the production, storage and use of hydrogen, as well as the commercial application of clean energy in micro-grid systems.
What are ATCO Gas’ current priority areas in the renewable energy space?
At ATCO we believe renewable energy is central to Australia’s energy future. As such we’re considering number of options but currently most focused on the renewable generation of hydrogen, for a variety of uses, including fuel for vehicles, remote power applications, export and potential blending with natural gas.
We also strongly believe in the power of natural gas as an enabler for renewables, and are looking at how our gas distribution network can play more of a role in this in WA.
What are some of the major challenges facing Australia in regards to energy and the move towards renewable?
The intermittent nature of renewable generation can prove challenging and having sufficient storage options available to hold, and then dispatch the energy where it’s needed isn’t straightforward. There is also a lack of certainty and policy from government makes it difficult for business to invest in new technologies and infrastructure to support the growth of renewable generation.
That said, there are sources of funding available to assist, and we are grateful to both ARENA and the WA government’s Renewable Hydrogen Fund for the support they have given ATCO as we further investigate renewable hydrogen generation and applications.
How has ATCO responded to these challenges and the changing energy market?
ATCO has been considering these challenges for some time and we looked to leverage our existing infrastructure, business and skill set so contribute to lowering emissions across the energy market. This led us to establishing, with support from ARENA, the Clean Energy Innovation Hub, which is a test bed for hybrid energy solutions, integrating natural gas, solar PV, battery storage and hydrogen production.
The Hub generates power through more than 1000 solar panels at our Jandakot site. This power is used to run the site, with the excess stored in batteries. Once the batteries are fully charged, additional power generated is used to run an electrolyser, creating hydrogen by splitting water into hydrogen, which is stored, and oxygen, which is safely vented into the atmosphere.
At the lab we have successfully blended hydrogen into the natural gas network on site and moving forward will be testing other uses for H2 such as fuel cells and turbines. Using this knowledge, we have further proposed to develop a commercial scale hydrogen production plant – tentatively named the Clean Energy Innovation Park – and have received $375,000 from the Western Australian Government’s Renewable Hydrogen Fund to conduct a feasibility study for this purpose. We look forward to sharing more details as this work progresses.
How did you secure buy-in/transform business models to make the CEIH a reality?
Our customers have told us that a low carbon future is important to them. Through our Voice of Customer program we know that they want us to continue to invest in ways to help reduce carbon emissions. With feedback coming directly from our customers our executives and board are committed to moving towards a cleaner energy future and want to leverage the value of the gas network into the future.
Likewise our employees are excited about the innovation taking place within the business and keen to be involved. Our work so far hasn’t required largescale changes in how we operate – just applying our skills and experiences to a new area of energy management.
What opportunities does the hydrogen market offer Australia? What are the commercial and environmental advantages of hydrogen in hybrid microgrids?
Australia is blessed with its land mass, abundant supply of wind, sun and wave energy potential. We are well positioned to use these resources and build a new hydrogen economy – for export and for domestic use – and contribute significantly to global emissions reduction.
Hydrogen offers a range of benefits including, use in the gas network for heating and cooking, cross sector coupling to support the electricity network, fuel for transport and industrial feedstock. When hydrogen is generated through renewable means – for example through an electrolyser run on solar power as it is at ATCO’s Clean Energy Innovation Hub – it has zero carbon emissions at any stage of the process and when that H2 is burnt, it only produces water vapour.
Could you share some top tips or lessons learned from your experience in the renewable energy space?
At ATCO Gas the two biggest lessons we’ve learned are:
- Safety is and always be our number one priority. Australia must continue in a coordinated fashion focussing our robust technical and safety regulations to support our transition to a clean energy future.
- Collaboration with stakeholders is key. Consumers, suppliers, government, regulators, technical experts, industry and the general public, all need to be involved in the transition to a low-carbon energy future and, a possible hydrogen economy.