Power-to-X: Unleashing the power of green automation

Solar panels and wind turbines pictured with electricity transmission towers in the background (future made in australia)
Image: Shutterstock

By Phoenix Contact

Power-to-X processes play a crucial role in buffering the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources and facilitating the transition to a sustainable energy future.

Green hydrogen, in particular, is a key component of the “All-Electric Society.” To ensure both safety and efficiency in automating the technology required for power-to-X, including electrolysers, pipelines, storage systems, and fuel cells, concepts such as digitalisation, modularity, and scalability are essential.

Recent weather catastrophes have once again highlighted the urgency of the climate crisis, driving greater acceptance of the energy transition. The vision of an All Electric Society, where carbon-neutral electricity dominates the power supply, is gaining momentum. Power-to-X technologies are instrumental in converting surplus renewable energy, generated during peak production periods, into storable forms such as fuels, hydrogen, ammonia, and methanol. These agents then serve as energy stores, ensuring a continuous supply of energy and promoting sector coupling across electricity, heat, gas, and mobility.

Related article: Engineers help Aussie-made ventilators come to life

Power-to-X provides a solution for making renewable energy storable and transportable on a large scale. Power-to-gas, in particular, holds promise for the mobility sector. While the conversion of water into hydrogen using electrolysers is not a new concept, it needs to become significantly more cost-effective to compete with fossil fuels. Electrolyser prices must be reduced by around two-thirds. Simultaneously, carbon taxes are driving the decarbonisation of various sectors, and the pursuit of greenhouse gas neutrality has become a pressing priority.

In this context, the concept of “green automation” assumes a pivotal role. Industry organisations and research institutes are championing sustainable manufacturing processes and innovative automation technologies to support decarbonisation and affordability. Within the power-to-gas domain, automation can enhance water electrolysis processes, fuel cells, pipeline operation, and storage facility monitoring.

The realisation of the All Electric Society vision relies on supporting power-to-X technologies throughout the entire supply chain, from renewable energy conversion to hydrogen and chemical/fuel conversion back to electricity. Automation solutions are vital to ensure safety, security, and explosion protection in the infrastructure underpinning these processes. Moreover, the integration of hydrogen into mobility, industry, and buildings is of paramount importance.

As the power-to-X industry experiences a surge of projects, there is a growing need for innovative automation concepts. The market demands openness and compliance with industry standards in the digitalisation era. Leveraging existing product portfolios and open automation systems, such as PLCnext Technology, enables the implementation of cutting-edge concepts like Open Process Automation (OPA) and modular system connectivity. These advancements expedite system design, engineering, construction, and commissioning. PLCnext Technology also supports the Namur Open Architecture (NOA) concept, allowing the secure use of production data for continuous process optimisation and predictive maintenance.

Related article: Emerson to automate NZ’s first large-scale solar project

Ensuring functional and data security is critical in the power-to-X industry to mitigate cybersecurity risks. Adhering to the IEC 62443 standard, which addresses IT security for industrial automation solutions, establishes effective protection goals. Holistic approaches encompass security-oriented product development, offering explosion-proof and resilient products for hydrogen-related applications. Functional safety is equally vital, and decentralised and configurable solutions contribute to enhanced safety measures and overall system performance in power-to-X applications.

In conclusion, green automation plays a central role in enabling the energy transition towards an All Electric Society. Power-to-X technologies, with their ability to store and convert renewable energy, are key drivers of this transition. By embracing digitalisation, modularity, and scalability, and incorporating automation solutions, the power-to-X industry can meet the challenges of safety, security, and cost-effectiveness, ultimately accelerating the realisation of a sustainable energy future.

Previous articlePre-construction work begins at Rangebank Battery
Next articleVictoria to phase out gas in new homes from 2024