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Plan advances to convert Utah coal-fired power plant to run on 100% hydrogen with storage

Highlights

Plant will first run mixture of natural gas, hydrogen

Hydrogen becoming growing part of US decarbonization strategies

New York — Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems said Tuesday it was awarded a contract for two natural-gas fired turbines that by 2025 will run on a mixture of 30% hydrogen and 70% gas before systematically increasing to 100% renewable hydrogen by 2045. The turbines will be installed at the coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant in Delta, Utah that is being transitioned to gas, then renewable hydrogen with an 840-MW capacity.

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The Intermountain Power Agency, a political subdivision of the State of Utah that supplies power to municipally-owned utilities, awarded the contract and will be the owner and operator of the repowered generation facility, according to a statement.

The plant will provide 840 MW of energy to the IPA's existing customers, which include Los Angeles and municipalities in other parts of California and Utah. The power plant is already connected to the Los Angeles power grid by an existing high voltage direct-current transmission line.

In May of 2019, MHPS partnered with Magnum Development to develop the Advanced Clean Energy Storage (ACES) project, which is adjacent to the Intermountain Power Plant. The ACES project will use renewable power to produce hydrogen through electrolysis that will be stored in an underground salt dome at the site, using existing technology that has supplied hydrogen to US refineries on the Gulf Coast for decades, the statement said.

Stored renewable hydrogen can provide power when wind and solar resources are limited due to weather conditions and time of day, as well as provide seasonal energy storage from renewable energy sources.

"We worked hard to develop a total solution for our customer IPA that included not only gas turbines capable of using renewable hydrogen fuel, but also the nearby ACES project, which will affordably generate and store large quantities of renewable hydrogen," said Paul Browning, president and CEO of MHPS Americas.

"We believe both IPP and ACES will be essential renewable energy infrastructure that will eventually help enable a 100% renewable power grid for the entire western interconnect of the United States, and will also provide renewable hydrogen for industrial and transport uses," Browning said.

HYDROGEN MARKET GROWTH

As more US states and large corporations look to decarbonize their operations and economies, hydrogen has become a growing part of the conversation.

"There is some talk about hydrogen being used to help decarbonize the natural gas system," Judith Judson, vice president of distributed energy systems at energy efficiency and renewable energy firm Ameresco, said in a phone call. Judson is the former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. She joined Ameresco in January.

"It is still in an earlier stage and something to be considered as the power sector becomes cleaner, Judson said." It's possible to use offshore wind power at night to generate green hydrogen, she added.

"And space heating in the Northeast generates about 44% of the region's greenhouse gas emissions, so there could be a role for hydrogen, as well as renewable natural gas, to play in reducing emissions from the heating sector," Judson said.

Jeff Rissman, industry program director and head of modeling at bipartisan energy think tank Energy Innovation, said his overall take on the project is positive.

"It seems like a unique project that will be a good commercial-scale demonstration project for generating hydrogen and using it for energy storage. The cost of generating hydrogen should come down with advances in electrolysis, one of the key technologies identified as worth more research effort to help decarbonize industry," Rissman said.

The project is sited where a salt dome provides natural hydrogen storage capability, so that will reduce the costs of hydrogen storage equipment. They already are grid-connected with high voltage transmission lines, he said.

By switching from coal to natural gas as soon as possible, they immediately cut their climate impact, and by buying equipment that can work with hydrogen, they avoid locking in those gas emissions. They also preserve more jobs at the plant and in the community than if they simply replaced the plant with renewables, Rissman added.

"I don't know how widely replicable the project is, because some coal plants won't have all of these positive traits, like the existing salt dome, and I don't know if there will be enough demand for seasonal energy storage to make every coal plant into a gas/hydrogen plant. But there probably are at least a few more coal plants that could do this, and maybe some existing gas plants as well," he said.