It is hard to break the habit of saying “gas station”. However, in the near future what we now know of as a gas station won’t be selling “gasoline” but will sell hydrogen fuel and help maintain grid electricity. Hydrogen fuel is a gas so we could still call it a “gas” station if we want.
I started wondering will the cars of the future be electric or hydrogen? Then I started to wonder, “Does it even really matter?” That choice may just come down to personal preference.
It seems to me that future hydrogen fuel stations will most likely create hydrogen on location and store their reserve on location in order to meet demand throughout the day. It seems like some people might like the option of being able to get a hydrogen fuel fill up once a week very quickly at the green energy station while others might prefer to just plug their car in when they’re at home or work. Batteries usually require more time to charge. Its also possible that some people will have electric cars with a solar film on the hood or roof of the car and will choose to park in the direct sunlight to slowly charge.
The reason I asked, “Does it even matter?” is because in a green smart grid every hydrogen fuel station should have a hydrogen powered electric generator on its roof. Those generators would be very close to a hydrogen fuel source and could essentially act as extra capacity and help maintain the grid when renewable energy production is low. For example if at 11:00 pm on a Friday night when the sun isn’t out, and there is no wind, or wave energy being created if everyone decides to run a blender that has the potential to crash the electrical system. However, if during that time the appropriate green energy stations start running a hydrogen powered electric generator and feeding that energy into the grid system then there is no problem with everyone running a blender at the same time at that time of day. As I see it having that extra hydrogen fuel storage tied into the system makes the entire grid function better and with more flexibility. Someone can either stop and fuel directly with hydrogen or they can plug into the electric system at home and potentially then store the same energy from that hydrogen they just passed by in their electric car’s battery. Cars will probably smart charge and choose to charge using software when the renewable energy is the most abundant. Electricity operates under a use it or lose it system. However, if someone insists on charging their car when everyone else is running their blenders making blended margaritas they will be able to as a hydrogen burning electric generator on a roof will automatically burn a little extra hydrogen to keep up with the extra demand. Twenty minutes later the wind might pickup and the rest of the night everything could then run directly off of wind energy.
I’m thinking we may not have large power plants in the future. We may have a network of smaller hydrogen powered generators that turn on when needed. That would keep us from having to dramatically overbuild the system. We may not always know when the wind will blow, but we do know exactly when the sun will go up and down every day. Technology has improved that even if it is cloudy we can still generate quite a bit of solar energy. To me it seems the key will be to always have enough stored fuel to get through every night when we know no solar power will be generated. The storing of hydrogen fuel chemically under a lower pressure (for safety) seems to be more practical than the storing of energy in batteries. At first there might be tiered rates one for cheaper daytime energy and one for slightly more expensive night time energy. However, within a short period of time that probably won’t matter. By the time those hydrogen burning generators die they will probably be replaced by cheaper batteries with no moving parts that can discharge into the grid when needed. Cheaper and better batteries will happen it just hasn’t happened yet. They will happen even faster if some Green New Deal money is put into the development of better batteries.
Chris Madsen is a writer and activist based in the great state of Hawaii. He frequently writes from the unique perspective of his Pacific home. His opinions are his own.
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