The hydrogen home technology has started to show up in a number of places in North America.
You can read articles in Scientific American or Google “solar hydrogen home” and find a surfeit of information.
In off-grid homes, energy storage is limited — batteries can only hold a restricted amount of energy.
No problem you say, install a larger battery bank.
Well it doesn’t quite work that way. Larger battery banks that sit unused are prone to sulfation, increased maintenance and reduced life.
To get the full life cycle from a battery bank, it needs to be sized to run the household independently for about four days.
However, you may have noticed that fogged in periods in recent years can easily last longer than four days.
Technology has provided a solution.
Hydrogen can be produced during those days when you have abundant power available and production is limited only by the size of your storage tanks.
This technology is being used in Arizona, New Jersey and Ontario.
People are seeing the need to change our way of thinking.
The basics of the system start with power production equipment such as a solar array and/or a wind turbine.
The power from these units is stored in batteries and converted to AC current, by inverters, to be used by the home as needed.
The excess sunlight and wind in the spring, summer, and fall is turned into hydrogen with an electrolyser unit, which takes water, splits it into its component parts of hydrogen and oxygen and stores the hydrogen in tanks.
The familiar 500- or 1,000-gallon propane tank fits this bill.
This hydrogen is then utilized, when the weather conditions eliminate power production from the wind turbine or solar array, by a fuel cell.
The fuel cell produces electricity, heat, and water that is used and reused by the home and hydrogen generation process.
The hydrogen can also be used for heating the home and domestic water supply, cooking and providing you with fuel for your vehicle.
As with any ideal system, there are some serious caveats.
The cost is generally far more than the average home owner is willing to spend.
Regulations in most instances are non-existent or vague at the best.
The very thought of increased competition by the average person must send shudders down every hydrocarbon-producing company’s spine.
And don’t forget the dangers of hydrogen.
Although hydrogen is probably the safest of all flammable gases to handle because of its dissipation rate, the public immediately remembers the Hindenburg airship disaster or the hydrogen bomb.
Like the computer, which was initially heralded by those supposedly in the know as having a worldwide demand for no more than four or five machines, the future will dictate how the hydrogen economy develops.
Alberta can bury its head in the tarsands if it wants, but the world cannot afford $110-a-barrel oil for long.
Lorne Oja is an energy consultant, power engineer and a partner in a company that installs solar panels, wind turbines and energy control products in Central Alberta. He built his first off-grid home in 2003 and is in the planning stage for his second. His column appears every second Friday in the Advocate. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org