Hydrogen energy company Joi Scientific is partnering with Canadian utility New Brunswick Power to create the first hydrogen-powered baseload electric grid, the companies announced Tuesday.
The grid will utilize the Florida-based company's Hydrogen 2.0 extraction technology, which claims it has solved cost and emissions issues that come with extracting hydrogen from water, to develop approximately 30 power stations fueled by hydrogen.
A commercially operational prototype is about two to three years away, Traver Kennedy, CEO of Joi Scientific, told Utility Dive, after which the two companies hope to have 10-100 MW of capacity from the new technology.
Hydrogen fuel has been an elusive source of electric generation in the power sector.
While the generation itself is emissions-free, environmentalists have noted the amount of power needed to separate hydrogen from water can take up more energy than the power actually supplied by the product. Cost has also traditionally been an issue, often limiting hydrogen power to "niche" sectors such as heat generation, according to Kennedy.
But the potential advantages of the technology are vast, and the technology will operate on the grid as long duration energy storage to be available during peak periods, according to Kennedy.
A new report from Nature Energy predicts that hydrogen-fueled power will soon be cost competitive in the U.S. and German power markets, and recommends policy incentives such as investment tax credits, which have been effective in cutting down the prices of other clean energy resources, such as wind and solar.
That may become a reality if technologies such as Joi Scientific's are able to keep customer costs down. NB Power and the developer "believe there is commercial viability that could be a plus" for ratepayers, though it's "impossible to say at this point" how customer bills will be impacted by the change, NB Power spokesperson Marc Belliveau told Utility Dive.
The utility, which is the primary electricity provider for Canada's eastern province New Brunswick, has a goal of generating 40% of its electric power from renewable resources by 2020, and Kennedy says the ultimate objective is to make NB Power an "emissions-free utility."
Its current generation portfolio includes wind, hydro, oil, diesel and coal-fired generation, and Kennedy said he envisions the partnership as a way to eliminate the utility's oil peakers and coal while keeping rates the same.
Patents on the technology are still being written so Kennedy did not want to address the ratio of energy consumed versus produced by the technology, but noted the two companies were "satisfied" with the technology and the issue of conversion loss was something that had been addressed in their research and development.
Tuesday's announcement follows a 2016 agreement between the utility and the developer, giving NB Power authority to develop and sell "hydrogen-fueled generation" to other utilities.
"Our goal is to help New Brunswick have all the tools they need" to go zero-emissions, said Kennedy, adding that the partnership will allow them to deliver the technology to other utilities across Atlantic Canada and eventually across other parts of North America, Asia and Europe.
NB Power "understands the space and utilities and the markets," said Kennedy and are an ideal partner "to go out into the wider world hand in hand" with.
"The goal for all utilities is to generate power with less carbon or no carbon and we are working on the products and tools to transition to more reliable systems and systems that are not contributing to climate change," he said.
Canada intends to reduce its country's emissions 56% below 2003 levels by 2030.