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Run-of-river energy storage in Bella Coola

November 17, 2010

Our recent media release applauding Powertech’s innovative Bella Coola HARP (Hydrogen Assisted Renewable Power) demonstration project —  a project that uses hydrogen to store renewable clean energy from the nearby Clayton Falls run-of-river facility  —  has generated a lot of interest and positive commentary.  

We even heard from the engineer who originally came up with the idea in 1991 while working on the updating and expansion of the Clayton Falls run-of-river facility (which was originally built in 1962).  

The 1991 expansion and refurbishment project increased the capacity of the Clayton Falls facility from 500 kilowatts to 2 megawatts and created the surplus off-peak energy now being used to generate and store hydrogen.  

Storing renewable green energy — whether it’s solar, wind, run-of-river, wave or tidal — is the Holy Grail of clean energy because it allows that clean energy to be available in a highly dispatchable form whenever it is needed: For example, to meet peak demand.

In remote Bella Coola, for instance, which is not connected to the BC Hydro grid, the community has had to supplement the electricity generated at Clayton Falls with diesel generation to meet peak electricity demand. 

But now, whenever demand for electricity is low in Bella Coola, the surplus electricity from the Clayton Falls run-of-river facility can be used to generate hydrogen through simple electrolysis.  That hydrogen, stored as a gas under pressure, can then used to generate clean electricity later on using a 100 kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell supplied by Ballard Systems.

Although the demonstration project will not completely eliminate the need for diesel generation in Bella Coola, it is expected to reduce the community’s annual diesel consumption by 200,000 litres and lower annual greenhouse gas emissions by 600 tonnes.

At the heart of the demonstration project in Bella Coola is a “microgrid controller” supplied by GE which automatically — and intelligently — responds to changes in electricity supply and demand and optimizes the community’s energy resources.  The resulting smart grid knows when to store hydrogen and when to put that stored energy back onto the grid to reduce the need for diesel generation. 

It’s still early days for hydrogen assisted renewable energy storage, but the knowledge and experience gained from demonstration projects like this one in Bella Coola help to advance clean technology innovation and provide us with new tools to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Bella Coola project, which was officially commissioned in September, is a partnership between BC Hydro, GE and Powertech (a BC Hydro subsidiary specializing in clean energy consulting, testing, and power solutions) with support from the provincial and federal governments.

Here are some useful links relating to the Bella Coola HARP project:

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