The German government has awarded €28.4m ($30m) to a consortium to build a hydrogen energy-storage pilot project in Germany that will be used as a “real-world laboratory” for the future conversion of existing conventional power plants to run on excess renewable energy.
The Referenzkraftwerk Lausitz (RefLau) project — “Reference Power Plant Lusatia” in English — will now be built at the sprawling Schwarze Pumpe industrial district in Spremberg, a city in the Lausitz (Lusatia) region of eastern Germany.
In simple terms, the facility will use excess wind and solar power to produce green hydrogen, and use that stored H2 to produce power when required by the grid — much like a gas-fired peaker plant.
In addition to this “positive and negative balancing power”, it will also perform the same network services as a coal-fired power plant, such as reactive power (maintaining a constant voltage level) and the ability to perform a “black start” after a grid black-out, while operating at full load during a two-week “dark doldrums” period in winter when there is little wind or sunshine.
The new plant, which is due to be commissioned at the end of 2025, will also be able to provide green hydrogen for “sector coupling” — a term used to describe the use of renewable energy in non-power markets such as mobility, heat and heavy industry.
This could take the form of hydrogen fuel for cars and trucks, the use of H2 at the industrial park, or blending H2 into the local natural gas network.
The RefLau website describes the project as “a new type of storage power plant”.
“In preparation for the planned exit from coal-fired power generation and an increasing share of renewable energy producers in the power grid, a significant increase in the flexibility of the power grids and future power plants is necessary,” it says.
“The production of green hydrogen, which enables the use of renewable energy in the transport, industry and heating sectors, is an important step towards reducing dependence on fossil fuels.”
The website adds that the Lusatia region often generates more wind and solar power than can be used locally.
“If hydrogen is produced directly by wind and solar power producers, it also relieves the power grid of fluctuations, saves massive costs when expanding the grid and ensures the storage capacity of the energy system.”
The size of the project has not been revealed, but it is unlikely to be utility-scale, given the size of the funding.
German vice-chancellor Robert Habeck, who visited Spremberg last week to meet the project partners, said: “With the Lausitz reference power plant, the BMWK [Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action] is funding an important real-world laboratory that marks a milestone in the transformation from a lignite mining region to an energy transition region.”
Jörg Steinbach, minister for economic affairs and energy in the state of Brandenburg, added: “The official go-ahead for the reference power plant is a milestone for the energy transition in Brandenburg.
“RefLau will set innovative standards by using only renewable energy and providing all the system services of a conventional power plant. In addition, it will enable broad sector coupling - and it is precisely sector coupling that is essential for the success of the energy transition and more climate protection. I am convinced: the RefLau will be the blueprint for the power plants of the future.”
The project partners are the local association for the industrial park, Zweckverband Industriepark Schwarze Pumpe; renewables developer Energiequelle; energy producer Enertrag; Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Infrastructures and Geothermal Energy (IEG); Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg; and Dresden University of Technology.