An Australian innovation, the unassuming-looking CQSola power controller has under-the-hood smarts that could significantly cut the cost of hydrogen produced using solar energy.
Hydrogen from electrolysis for under $2 a kilo? Australian entrepreneurs, Ian and Tony Schirmer have developed a missing link in the race to low-cost hydrogen, with a proposal to use their CQSola industrial solar power controllers to connect solar generation directly to the terminals of electrolysers — no double DC-to-DC conversion — which saves the 9-15% loss of power going to hydrogen that those processes incur.
That’s in addition to the 21%+ additional power CQSola claims its device can help solar farms to generate by ensuring each panel works to its maximum capacity, unhampered by its neighbours in a typical string arrangement.
pv magazine Australia originally covered the solar optimiser devised by the Schirmers — electrical engineer Ian, former Products and Services Innovation Manager at Ergon Energy is relentlessly questing to improve clean energy performance; and his son Tony, who brings business, cloud systems and coding expertise to the mix — back in August 2019.
Late last year, the start-up was feted by the office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur, and since then has discovered further potential applications of its direct-control and monitoring device that will greatly improve the economic case for solar-generated hydrogen.
The revelation came about when CQSola was “contacted by a representative from the Asian Development Bank who was scouting out new technologies for green hydrogen production”, Ian tells pv magazine Australia. The ensuing discussion prompted the Schirmers to investigate their technology through a green-hydrogen lens.
“We discovered that we can hook it up from the solar panels directly to hydrogen electrolysers, cutting out a whole heap of machinery and electronics in the middle,” says Ian.
Since hydrogen production and re-energisation are notorious for losing power at every conversion turn, reducing the number of processes involved is an obvious way to ensure more green energy is captured, and lower the cost per kilo.
If electrolysers, why not batteries and UPS systems?
Ian adds that because electrolysers are a form of energy-storage — “you charge the electrolyser to get hydrogen and discharge that to get energy” — the technology could also enable battery energy storage systems (BESSs) and uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) to be directly charged from the DC side of solar farms, again reducing the loss of energy through conversions.
The Schirmers say it was a natural progression for CQSola to begin working on the design of high-voltage electrolysers, by “hooking existing electrolysers up in series to get a higher-voltage electrolyser,” says Ian.
“The problem,” adds Tony, “is that at the moment the control for that system doesn’t exist.” He explains it would generally be achieved via a DC busbar, but “to get the power onto the DC busbar you need to have a DC-to-DC conversion and a DC-to-DC conversion on the actual charge controller. We’ve built all that into our controller.
“Essentially when you connect our product in a string, you’re creating a busbar with a charge controller on it and taking out those big conversion losses.”
CQSola has plans to partner with an electrolyser manufacturer to enable higher-voltage equipment, with the aim of more efficiently producing hydrogen from the same amount of renewable energy.
Getting traction in the H2 ecosystem
As a solution for driving greater efficiencies in the green hydrogen value chain, the CQSola controller was recently endorsed in an industry webinar by Stephen B. Harrison founder of Europe-based sbh4 Consulting which specialises in all aspects of hydrogen production.
As part of the EQ World Hydrogen Large-scale Electrolysis webinar, aired in mid-April, Harrison posited that efforts to improve the performance of photovoltaic modules have plateaued in terms of return on R&D effort — “we need to look at other weak links in the photovoltaic chain” in order to economically feed mega- and giga-scale electrolysers.
Greater productivity of solar infrastructure will be one of the most significant contributors to lowering the cost of hydrogen.
Harrison singled out CQSola as “a very, very clever power-management device” that “solves a lot of the problems of solar farms” to give “20-30%, maybe even a 40%, uplift in power generation”.
Increasing productivity of solar farms and reducing losses in conversions from solar to electrolyser by the percentages CQSola says are achievable using its technology, could make cents — perhaps enough to cross the H2 for under $2/kg rubicon.
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