As we all know, wind power is incredibly stupid; expensive, space-wasting and, above all, so unreliable as to be completely fucking useless. Even if you are generating power, there is no effective way to store said levels of power for any decent amount of time (capacitors being utterly unsuitable for our needs).
However, rather than signing stupid and pointless pieces of paper, it seems that, as usual, the Americans are leading the efforts to produce greener power by actually doing things (hat tip to purplepangolin in these comments) rather than waffling crap and eating expensive lunches in exotic locations.
Xcel Energy and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory today unveiled a unique facility that uses electricity from wind turbines to produce and store pure hydrogen, offering what may become an important new template for future energy production.
“Today we begin using our cleanest source of electricity – wind power – to create the perfect fuel: hydrogen,” said Richard C. Kelly, Xcel Energy chairman, president and CEO. “Converting wind energy to hydrogen means that it doesn’t matter when the wind blows since its energy can be stored on-site in the form of hydrogen.”
The facility links two wind turbines to devices called electrolyzers, which pass the wind-generated electricity through water to split the liquid into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can be stored and used later to generate electricity from either an internal combustion engine turning a generator or from a fuel cell. In either case, there are no harmful emissions, and the only by-product from using the hydrogen fuel is water. On site is a new building that houses the electrolyzers and a device to compress the hydrogen for storage; four large, high-tech tanks to store the hydrogen; a generator run by an engine that burns hydrogen; and a control room building, where computers monitor all the steps of the process. Xcel Energy and NREL are each paying part of the $2 million budget for the two-year project.
“The project allows our researchers to compare different types of electrolyzers and work on increasing the efficiency of a wind-to-hydrogen system,” said Dan Arvizu, NREL director. “And, it has the potential to point the way to a completely emissions-free system of making, storing and using energy.”
You see? That's the way that it should be done.
There are, of course, downsides; hydrogen is highly flammable and also occurs naturally as a gas. It thus needs to be very cold and under high pressure to be brought to liquid form, which makes transport and logistics something of a problem.
However, it can also be used in hydrogen fuel cells which, though currently not really viable, are becoming more efficient. The main research facility for H2 fuel cells in Britain is at St Andrews University, something which Timmy knows quite a bit about as he has donated scandium for use in their experiments (scandium apparently boosts the capacity of the cell).
All of these caveats are, of course, mere engineering problems which will be sorted out. The point is that the Americans have seen what the problems are—wind power is unreliable and storing of large quantities of electricity for long periods of time near impossible—and have decided to address the question in a logical way.
In the meantime, our government persists in building wind turbines in order to hook them up to the energy grid, where they are, not to put too fine a point on it, almost entirely useless.
UPDATE: thanks to M V Smith in the comments, who points out that Pure Energy Solutions is having a go at the same thing in the Shetlands.