Idaho National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have partnered with Idaho Power to evaluate the feasibility and advantages of producing hydrogen at existing hydropower plants.

Integrating hydrogen production with hydropower can enhance grid stability through energy storage, reoxygenate water for downstream environmental improvements and support decarbonizing energy production. The data, models and analyses developed through this partnership will help determine the viability of hydropower and hydrogen integration, for Idaho and facilities across the U.S.

“INL and PNNL will evaluate the coupling of electrolytic hydrogen production technologies with hydropower plants to identify scenarios that could help Idaho Power achieve its goal of providing 100% clean energy by 2045,” said Brett Dumas, Idaho Power’s director of environmental affairs. “This approach will help maximize use of the clean energy produced by Idaho Power’s 17 hydroelectric power plants.”

Hydropower generates more consistently than other renewable energy sources, and adding hydrogen production can increase flexibility by helping balance wind and solar generation. This is especially important during hours of peak electricity use. Additionally, hydrogen produced using excess electricity from hydropower easily can be converted back into electricity when needed. This option would be especially useful during peak hours when electricity from hydropower may not be readily available, helping to meet energy demand and reduce reliance on nonrenewable power generation.

“Storing hydrogen as a fuel could help stabilize the grid and offer a cleaner alternative to fossil-fuel backup power generation. This approach could give electrical system operators greater flexibility to ensure reliable and economical service,” said INL’s Daniel Wendt, principal investigator and researcher on the project.

In addition, reservoirs behind dams may have low levels of dissolved oxygen, particularly during summer and early fall. Dissolved oxygen in a river is necessary for fish and other aquatic species. INL and PNNL researchers will evaluate the potential of using excess oxygen generated by the hydrogen generation process to reoxygenate water in rivers with hydropower plants. “Idaho Power is already seeing positive results from adding oxygen into the water flowing out of Brownlee Dam in Hells Canyon,” Dumas said.

INL, PNNL and Idaho Power are taking the first step by analyzing the economic and environmental impacts of integrating hydrogen production with hydropower. The project team will develop advanced modeling and analytical methods to explore various deployment scenarios and maximize the benefits associated with hydropower-based hydrogen production.

“To effectively schedule hydrogen production, advanced modeling and optimization techniques are required to account for both energy shifting opportunities and oxygen needs subject to both system- and component-level constraints,” said Di Wu, a chief research engineer and the technical lead at PNNL.

INL researchers will use a U.S. Department of Energy software tool proven to be effective for techno-economic evaluation of other hydrogen production and usage applications. The Hydrogen Analysis (H2A) tool can perform screening studies of the most promising electrolysis technologies and hydrogen use cases. H2A allows the user to access all calculations as well as check intermediate results.

PNNL researchers will build on the results of the screening study to model and optimize the hydrogen production system. Through the Hydrogen Energy Storage Evaluation Tool and data analysis, INL and PNNL researchers will determine how to implement the right set of technologies to achieve the best performance.

“While hydropower and hydrogen both offer immense economic and environmental benefits on their own, combining their use in one application offers new opportunities for enhancing grid stability, improving environmental outcomes and creating a cleaner energy economy,” Wendt said.

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