Demonstrating the micro power of hydrogen

A small coastal town 820km north of Perth has the attention of the country as it trials Australia’s first renewable hydrogen microgrid.

The microgrid, believed to be one of the first of its kind worldwide, this month began producing hydrogen in the community of Denham.

When it hits full swing, which is expected in early 2023, the $9.3 million Denham Hydrogen Demonstration Plant is expected to provide enough power for about 100 homes – or 20% of Denham’s small population.

“Once fully operational, the plant will show how renewable hydrogen can be used to replace diesel and other fossil fuels to propel WA to net zero emissions by 2050,” says Western Australia’s Hydrogen Industry Minister Alannah MacTiernan.

 “This project is the first step towards rolling out renewable hydrogen domestically – and has helped us build critical skills and understanding to move us along as a producer and user of renewable hydrogen.”

Four people in high vis vests standing outside a fence with sign reading denham hydrogen demonstration plant
A first: Horizon Power CEO Stephanie Unwin, WA Energy Minister Bill Johnston, WA Hydrogen Industry Minister Alannah MacTiernan and WA Member for Mining and Pastoral Region Peter Foster at the opening of the Denham Hydrogen Demonstration Plant this month (November).

The bulk of the Denham project – $5.7 million – has been funded by the WA Government, with a further $1 million through the WA Renewable Hydrogen Fund and $2.6 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

Horizon Power and Hybrid Systems Australia are delivering the project that includes a 704kW solar farm, a 348kW hydrogen electrolyser, and a 100kW hydrogen fuel cell as an alternative to diesel generators. It has been built at the site of the town’s existing power station.

The plant was opened in November and testing is now underway on the integration of the hydrogen, solar, battery and diesel components of the microgrid.

Horizon Power says the project should offset 140,000 litres of diesel a year. And, the company says, other remote diesel microgrids might follow the same path after 2025.

“It is very exciting to be officially opening a project that is leading the country in the demonstration of hydrogen as a base load fuel source,” Horizon Power Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Unwin says.

“Together, with the State and Federal Governments, we are working towards the transition to clean, green energy and providing valuable learnings which could support the commercialisation of renewable hydrogen power generation.

“I would also like to thank the people of Denham, in particular the Shire of Shark Bay, for supporting this work – it has definitely put the town on the map in terms of Western Australia’s decarbonisation journey to net zero by 2050.”

WA’s Energy Minister Bill Johnston says the Denham Hydrogen Demonstration Plant would help in Western Australia’s aim to become a “hydrogen powerhouse”.

850 denham opens

“This project is the first step towards rolling out renewable hydrogen domestically – and has helped us build critical skills and understanding to move us along as a producer and user of renewable hydrogen,” Johnston says. 

Hybrid Systems Australia’s executive director Mike Hall says the system aims to demonstrate the efficiency of the hydrogen equipment, the ramp rate of hydrogen, and the efficiency and storage capability of hydrogen fuel cells compared to batteries.

“As an industry-first, this project has presented some really interesting opportunities for us to grow our capabilities in the green hydrogen project delivery space,” Hall says. “It’s still a budding industry in Australia, so we really had to start at the beginning, from designing a system based on first principle thinking to navigating both existing and newly developing industry regulations and licensing designed for different applications.

“We’ve worked closely with Horizon Power and regulators to get the process right, and it’s been a very dynamic project, but we looked at any challenges as growth opportunities, and in doing so, we’ve been able to see things through fresh eyes.

“Different solutions have presented themselves along the way. It’s made us more agile in this rapidly evolving space and, ultimately, better at what we do. It’s been an exciting journey and one that we’re really proud to have been a part of.”

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Shire of Shark Bay Council president Cr Cheryl Cowell says Denham could become a zero-emission community.

She says the council agreed early in the proposal to lease 20 hectares of land for the project. Excess energy from the solar panels will feed back into the grid.

“A benefit of the ‘green hydrogen to electricity’ supply chain is that storage of hydrogen ensures power 24/7,” Cowell says.

“The capability of hydrogen power as a renewable energy source is being tested in Shark Bay to prove the reliability of a hydrogen powerplant to provide an opportunity to expand and supply full power requirements for Denham in the future.”

She says Horizon wants to eventually replace Denham’s diesel generators with renewable energy, with a goal to have no new diesel power generation from 2025.

“The Denham trial is important, as it may solve the problem of transporting power long distances across the State.  The lower cost of photovoltaics means that megawatts of power can be supplied to customers, a much less costly exercise,” Cowell says.

“We are really pleased to have been chosen to be the first regional town in WA to have a trial hydrogen plant established.  It is proposed that 85% of Denham’s power will come from renewables by 2025.”

The trial goes hand-in-hand, Cowell says, with the community’s appreciation of living surrounded by WA’s first inscribed UNESCO World Heritage Area.

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