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TRUMP ON RENEWABLES: “The wind and the television go off. And your wives and husbands say: ‘Darling, I want to watch Donald Trump on television tonight. But the wind stopped blowing and I can’t watch. There’s no electricity in the house, darling.’ ”

Trump’s ignorance is countered with two words: energy storage. And add a new concept: renewable islanded microgrids.

This and following images from Bridging 2019.

The Latest from NFCRC. Scientists at the National Fuel Cell Research Center, University of California, Irvine, write that “the intermittent and uncontrollable nature of these renewable energy sources requires complementary storage and dispatchable clean power generation to meet dynamic power demand.” To meet these challenges, researchers are developing energy storage and generation based on fuel cell technology of the solid-oxide type.

High Temperature to the Rescue. Solid-oxide technology is especially efficient, even by fuel-cell standards. Solid-oxide fuel cells operate at high temperatures, typically 1000 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. By contrast, PEM (proton-exchange membrane) fuel cells, the sort powering fuel-cell cars, operate at a tenth of the SOFC temperature range.

SOFCs are not suited to mobile applications, but their systems (and high efficiency) are fine for stationary energy storage and production.

Storing Renewable Excess. Among a variety of energy storage technologies, hydrogen is the key to one of them. During periods of renewable energy abundance, the excess is applied to electrolysis, which splits water into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen. Traditional low-temperature electrolysis isn’t as efficient as that performed in ceramic solid-oxide electrolyzer cells. SOECs have lower electrochemical losses and better thermodynamic characteristics.

A Typical Day of Energy Supply and Demand. Here, the yellow power supply yields hydrogen from SOEC solar sourcing. The blue power demand comes from SOFC fed by the stored hydrogen. This and the following image from Bridging, Volume 7 2019.

Using Stored Energy. At night or when the wind is insufficient, the stored hydrogen is fed to SOFC systems producing electricity on demand. Researchers note the hydrogen can also be used for transportation as well as industrial synthesis of chemical compounds such as methane, ammonia, and plastics.

Microgrids. A microgrid is a small network of locally sourced and distributed electricity. It might be attached to a centralized grid, but may be able to function independently. The Stone Edge Farm MicroGrid, just west of Sonoma, California, is partnering with UCI’s NFCRC in this use of SOEC/SOFC renewable power. (And forgive all the abbreviations!)

Stone Edge Farm describes its microgrid as “a mile-long power line that connects a network of electrical services and integrates various forms of distributed energy generation (solar, microturbine, hydrogen fuel cells) and storage (batteries and hydrogen) with real-time monitoring and control.”

Islanded Systems. As its name suggests, an islanded microgrid can operate independently of its larger centralized grid. Citing technical and regulatory challenges, Stone Edge Farm has yet to function in this mode.

On-going Research. NFCRC is addressing these challenges and working with start-up Hydroloop to design and build a prototype hydrogen energy storage system for Stone Edge Farm.

Don’t worry, darling. Science and technology keep us from the dark, both literally and intellectually. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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