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 Photovoltaic (PV) power is becoming popular worldwide as an alternative to grid power for various reasons. It gives an energy independence and freedom, it helps reduce greenhouse gas emission and combat global warming, it helps people taking advantage of various Government subsidies and incentives, and it also generates some revenue by selling surplus power back to the grid. At the end of the period you own the system and claim depreciation and some tax benefits. All these compelling factors may motivate people to opt for PV solar power. But you should also do some math and make a cost benefit analysis to choose a right system for you.

When there is a good sunshine day after day and throughout the year, PV solar is good proposition and can be really rewarding. Unfortunately that is not the reality. There may be many cloudy, rainy and fogging days in a year and your PV solar capacity may be overestimated or underestimated. You know the real data only after one or two years of life experience. It is a long-term financial and ethical decision one has to make and the decision should be absolutely right. You can make such a decision by carefully examining all the factors, not just by looking at the first cost but looking at operating and maintenance costs and all the costs and benefits associated with them.

Storage batteries are inevitable in PV solar systems, especially for grid independent systems. Even with grid connected PV solar system the design and installation of a correct battery bank, controllers and rectifier are important issues. In this article we will discuss about grid independent system because many developing countries in Africa and Asia do not have 24×7 uninterrupted grid power supplies. Many people living in islands have to manage their own power by using diesel generators. This is the stark reality.

Let us assume that you design a system assuming a daily average power consumption of 25,000 kwhrs/day, which is suitable even for a medium size family in US. We made an optimum design study between two  systems; first  containing PV solar,battery,controller for grid independent power supply; and second  system with PV solar, battery, water Electrolyzer,Hydrogen storage  and PEM Fuel cell and a rectifier for grid independent system,  based on the same power consumption of 25,000kwhrs/day. You can clearly see the difference between the two systems by the following data.This financial analysis was made assuming there is no Government subsidies and incentives.

Grid independent system with battery storage for 25,000kwhrs/day power:

Total NPV (net present value):$ 342,926

Levelized cost of energy: $2.94/kwhrs

Operating cost/yr: $22,764

Grid independent system with Hydrogen storage for 25,000kwhrs/day power:

Total NPV (net present value): $ 169,325

Levelized cost of energy : $ 1.452/kwhrs

Operating cost/yr: 8,330

The number of batteries required in the first case is 17 numbers. In the second case, number of batteries required is only 2.Obviously,  the levelized cost of power using  PV Hydrogen (storage) is less than 50% of the power generated using PV battery (storage) for the same energy consumption of 25,000kwhrs/day. The operating cost is only one-third for PV Hydrogen system compared to battery system. Batteries are indispensable in any renewable energy system but reducing their  numbers to the lowest level is important, when the life of the system varies from 25 years to 40 years. The numbers and the cost of batteries and their maintenance cost  will make all the difference.

 

Photovoltaic  solar industry has started expanding in recent years in US and Europe and the rest of the world also started following. Still solar energy is considered expensive in many parts of the world for various reasons. In most of these countries, energy is predominantly managed by Governments with age-old technologies and transmission systems. Coal is still the major fuel used for power generation and distribution and their infrastructures are old and inefficient. Transmission losses, power pilfering, subsidized power tariffs and even free power for farmers, are some of the issues that compounds the problems. Energy and water are considered more of social issues rather than business issues. For example in India, frequent power failures are common  and sometimes people do not have power even up to 8 to 12 hours  a day, especially  in country sides. Standby diesel generators are integral part of an industry or business. The heavily subsidized power supply by Government from coal-fired power plants is  underrated. The average power tariff in India is still less than $0.07/kwhr.But the reality is they will be using diesel generated power for equal several hours in a day  and the cost of diesel power varies from  $0.24 up to $0.36/kwhrs, almost in par with solar power. The average power cost will amount to $0.18 to $0.20 /kwhrs.

Any slight increase  in oil price will have a dramatic effect in energy cost in India and their balance of payment situation.Governments are in a precarious situation and they have to make a balancing act between subsidizing the energy cost and winning the elections. They often subsidize the power resulting in heavy revenue losses for Government run electricity boards. Most of the electricity boards in India are in red. People are used to low power tariffs for several decades and any increase in the tariff will make the Government unpopular. Greenhouse effect and global warming are secondary issues. With an average economic growth rate at 7% year after year, their energy requirements have gone up substantially. They may need several hundred thousands of MW power in the next 5 to 10 years. They have opened up energy sector to private only in recent years.

Renewable energy industry is relatively new and there are very few large commercial-scale solar and wind power plants in India. Majority of residents and businesses cannot afford high cost of PV solar installation. Even if they install, there is no ‘power- in tariff’ mechanism by Government where consumers can export surplus energy at a higher tariff to the grid. With current power failures lasting 8-12 hours/day, such mechanisms will have no value. The situation is the same in many Asian countries.

The solar panel costs are high due to lack of local production of silicon wafers, batteries and inverters and most of them are still imported. State electricity boards do not have funds to buy power at higher tariffs. Import duties and taxes on imported components are still high making renewable industries uncompetitive against cheap coal-fired,  subsidized power cost of $0.07/kwhrs .India requires massive investment on renewable energy industries. But most of the power projects which are under planning stage or under implementation are based on either coal or oil or LNG.There is no sign that India will soon become a major player in renewable energy.

In PV solar projects, the cost of storage batteries are higher than the solar panel during the life cycle of 25 years. If the life of a battery is 8 years then you will need 3 batteries during the life cycle. For example, if you use 100 watts solar panel with a life span of 20 years, the initial cost of solar panel may be $300 which will generate an average power of 140 watt.hrs /day. If you plan to store 5 days energy using a battery, you will enquire 5x 140= 700 watt.hrs battery, costing about $175.If you have to replace batteries 3 times during the life span of 20 years then the cost of battery is 3×175= $525.You have to add operation and maintenance cost, in addition to it. Therefore, your investment on batteries is 1.75 times more than solar panels. This cost will substantially add up to your energy cost.

In most of the Asian countries where they cannot export surplus power to the grid, they have to rely only on batteries. This high cost of stored energy is not remunerative because they cannot export this surplus to the grid at a higher tariff. This situation is not likely to change at least in the short-term.

It is amazing that highly combustible Hydrogen is a constituent of cool water. As long as it remains a part of a water molecule we are able to handle it easily. Water is always in a state of ionization with H+ and OH- ions in a dynamic equilibrium. The electrical conductivity of pure water which is completely free from any other ions is almost zero. In a solid polymer electrolyzer, which is the reverse of Fuel cell, water is decomposed into Hydrogen and Oxygen while passing a Direct current. Electrolyzer is an electrolytic cell similar to battery, containing an Anode, Cathode and Electrolyte. In a solid polymer Electrolyzer, the electrolyte is a polymer membrane. Water is decomposed as shown in the following reaction:

At Anode of electrolyzer:               H2O——– 0.5 O2 + 2e + 2H†

At Cathode of electrolyzer:             2H† + 2e —— H2

The purity of water is critical in the above process of electrolysis. In conventional electrolysis, water with addition of potash lye (KOH) acts as an electrolyte. But in the above process there is no need for any addition of lye. Moreover, Hydrogen can be generated at high pressure so that further compression becomes easier. In cases of power generation using Fuel cell, the Hydrogen pressure from Electrolyzer is sufficiently high, obviating the usage of an additional compressor.

The electrical conductivity of water increases as the concentration of dissolved salts increases. That is why the electrical conductivity of seawater is much higher than your tapwater.But this salt can be removed by the process of desalination using ‘reverse osmosis’ systems.

When you separate pure water and salt water using a semi permeable membrane there is natural tendency for pure water to pass across the membrane to pure water side. This process is called ‘Osmosis’. The process continues till the concentration of water on both side of the membrane becomes equal. Nature does not like disparities between strong and weak and always tend to make both equal. By reversing this principle of osmosis, we can separate salt water into pure water and highly concentrated salt water known as brine. This process is called ‘Reverse osmosis’. We will discuss about this process later.

If your tap water is not very hard, say such as, total dissolved solids TDS is around  500ppm (Part per million), then the osmotic pressure is not high, which means you do not need to use a high pressure pump. Higher the TDS level, higher the osmotic pressure and higher the power consumption will be. You can install a reverse osmosis system based on your water analysis. You have to use a pure water with low conductivity 10-15 micro Siemens/cm.The reverse osmosis system can be connected to your tap and  store pure water while draining the salt water into the drain. You can use this pure water to an Electrolyzer to generate Hydrogen. The Hydrogen can be stored in a tank made up of Carbon composite materials that can withstand high pressure and approved by regulatory authorities.

This article is only to understand how Hydrogen can be generated using your tap water. The actual implementation of the system requires knowledge and experience in installing such a system. But we will release an eBook, a step by step guide to set up your power generation system as well fuelling your Fuel cell car, using Hydrogen. An independent power generation and fuelling system using only solar power and water will soon become a commercial reality because, it is a clean and sustainable solution for all our energy problems. The PV solar industries are already expanding at a faster rate and solar Hydrogen will soon become a final solution.

There is a general opinion that Hydrogen is dangerous or explosive; people are often reminded of Hindenburg accident or Hydrogen bombs. Hydrogen is as safe as Gasoline or Butane gas. It should be handled with care like any combustible material. We have used Hydrogen in industries for so many decades and transported by pipelines across thousands of kilometers; the methods and procedures of handling Hydrogen is well established. It is a very light, colorless and odorless gas and it can easily escape into the atmosphere. Hydrogenation of vegetable oils for production of certain Margarines is one the classical industrial examples for Hydrogen usage. When 100m3 Hydrogen is compressed to 10,000psi pressure, it is reduced to just 0.163 m3 by vlume.That is how the Hydrogen storage space is reduced in passenger cars. This volume of gas can give a mileage of 652 miles, using Fuel cell power. The only emission is just pure water vapor! No noise, no smoke and it is entirely a new experience driving a Hydrogen Fuel cell car.

Powering your home with Hydrogen or fuelling your Fuel cell car is not very difficult. It is expensive compared to grid power for two simple reasons. Grid power is generated by power generation companies somewhere else using coal, oil or gas and transmitted across to millions of people.Therefore,  the  investment on power generation is shared by millions of people through their monthly energy bills. When you use the grid power, you do not pay any large sum except, a small deposit of few hundred dollars towards connection fee, and you pay your bills based on your monthly electricity usage.

But when you try to generate your own power using a solar panel or Fuel cell then you have to make an investment fully upfront. Of course, your bank can help you with the finance for the system. However, when you calculate the energy cost over the life period of 25 years then you can clearly see the value of such investment. The grid power cost will only increase and never decrease while your generation cost will decrease as the time passes. The future energy cost is likely to increase substantially due to various factors. You can export surplus power to the grid and your payback time will be reduced as the energy cost increases.

The first step in powering your home is to calculate your power requirements accurately in terms of watt.hrs.How many appliances you will be using  and how many hours you will using each of these appliances per day. Suppose you estimate 15,000 watt.hrs/day or 15kwhrs/day of power, and then a small Fuel cell consuming 1 Kg/day of Hydrogen or 30 kgs/month of Hydrogen will be sufficient to meet your power demand. Similarly you can calculate the amount of Hydrogen you will be using as a fuel for your Fuel cell car. For example, if you will be  driving your Fuel cell car for 1000 miles per month, then  your Hydrogen requirement will be about 14 kgs/month. Your Hydrogen requirement per month for both power and car together will be 44 kgs only.

Your total  power need to generate the above Hydrogen will be 2464 kwhrs/month costing less than $250 per month for both power and fuel. Of course you need to calculate other fixed costs on the investment. You can export your solar power at a higher tariff to the Government and import your power requirement from the grid during off-peak season at a lower tariff and generate Hydrogen and store it. You can generate your power as and when you need, and you are in complete control of your situation, even if there is a blackout due to grid failure!

Do you use a generator that runs on diesel or gas to power your business due to frequent power outage from the grid? Are you running an air-conditioner with the grid power? Then you must look for waste heat recovery system to improve your energy efficiency and save your fuel cost. You can also use roof top solar hot water to supplement waste heat recovery. The savings may be real and you may be able to recover your investment in a short period and also contribute for the reduction of greenhouse emissions.

The diesel or gas engine converts only most 30% of fuel input in the form of thermal energy into mechanical energy to run your generator, and the balance heat is wasted in the form of greenhouse gas. You can recover this heat and increase the efficiency of the system. This means for the same amount of diesel used, you will get much higher output in the form of heating or cooling or in the form of additional electricity.

The exhaust temperature from a gas engine is about 420C.You can also recover extra heat from jacket cooling. Let us assume that you have a natural gas-fired engine to generate 100kw electricity for the premises. The efficiency of such spark ignited reciprocating gas engines are typically about 30%, which means a natural gas input of 1.145 mm Btu/hr. Let us assume the cost of piped natural gas at $10 per mm Btu; the fuel cost will be about $ 11.45/hr.

The exhaust heat from the engine will be about 801,500 Btu/hr; with waste heat recovery efficiency at 75%, the heat recovery will be 601,125 Btu/hr.You can air-condition premises with an area of 35-40 square meters using this recovered waste heat. If you use grid power   at the rate of $0.10/kwhr, to run the air conditioning system for the above area, you will be spending about 30,000kwhrs of electricity per month, costing about $ 3000 per month. By installing an absorption chiller to air-condition your premises using engine exhaust heat, you will be saving about $36,000 per year towards air-conditioning. The air-conditioning system may cost about $130,000, and with the above savings you will be able to get a return on your investment in less than 3 years.

If you have a roof-top solar water heater then you can supplement it with your engine exhaust heat water so that the capacity of the air-conditioning can be increased. It is one of the best methods by which an energy efficiency of a fossil felled engine can be increased. If the capacity of the engine is much higher, there are other methods by which the efficiency can be increased.

For example, the hot water from the exhaust system can be used to generate some extra power using an ORC, organic Rankin cycle. It is similar to a steam turbine. An organic liquid with low boiling point will be evaporated into vapor by a low heat source such as hot water from engine exhaust, which runs a turbine, generating some extra power and condensing back into the liquid, and then the cycle continues. You will be able to generate an extra electricity of about 15-18% making the total electrical efficiency of the system  to 45-50%, which is similar to a Fuel cell system, but at a much lower cost.

Heat recovery system with an absorption chilling and using low heat source to generate extra power using ORC, are best methods to improve energy efficiency of an existing system with little investment. The purpose of such integration is to increase the energy efficiency of the existing system, so that you will be getting more output of energy from the same input of fuel.

 

 

 

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