This system generates hydrogen on-site with solar energy, stores the hydrogen, and uses it to run a fuel cell on cloudy days. The hydrogen acts as a storage medium for the solar power, substituting for extra batteries. The fuel cell, which exhales only water vapor, substitutes for a back-up generator. Thus the system is carbon-neutral and pollution-free.
The system embodies an ideal end-state for our global energy infrastructure. That is, it’s an example of one of the things we must do if we are to wean ourselves from fossil fuels and their carbon pollution. As Joseph Romm explains in his excellent book, The Hype About Hydrogen , this end-state will not be practical on a large scale for decades: In the short term the most efficient use of any grid-tied renewable energy source is to directly replace polluters such as coal-fired generators. This gives the greatest CO2 reduction. Thus a surplus of renewable energy with which to make carbon-neutral hydrogen will not be available for many years (hydrogen made from natural gas is not carbon-neutral).
However, where there is a local surplus of renewable energy, a hydrogen system is practical and appropriate, here and now. This is precisely the case in an off-the-grid location such as ours. These locations have the privilege of being among the first truly viable spots for the hydrogen economy.
We believe it is critical to implement new technologies in the field: Only by true field-testing does a technology become robust enough to do useful work. There as a huge difference between theory and practice. On this basis we carried out our experiment. Indeed, we found that installing a hydrogen system is by no means a straight shot. But the bulk of the challenge stemmed from the lack of field experience with these technologies; the kinks are not yet worked out. We were particularly interested in finding out the weak links in the system. Our goal is to pass on what we have learned, in order to smooth the way for other installers, and ultimately to help these great technologies attain off-the-shelf efficiency. (We also wanted to have fun, and for that hydrogen is a great way to go.)