Truly Green? Duke Energy Plans Solar-Powered Hydrogen Plant

November 27, 2023 by Jane Marsh

Duke Energy’s self-contained hydrogen plant will use renewable energy to create renewable energy. Solar power will produce and store 100% green hydrogen, which will, in turn, generate electricity for the grid.

Hydrogen production is a contentious form of energy creation among energy, architecture, tech, and engineering professionals. Yet, it may be one of the most effective ways to create infinite green energy if generators source it from an eco-conscious place. 


North Carolina-based Duke Energy’s hydrogen production plant will use solar from the DeBary, Fla. facility.

North Carolina-based Duke Energy’s hydrogen production plant will use solar from the DeBary, Fla. facility. Image used courtesy of Duke Energy

Historically, hydrogen production methods are costly, rely on fossil fuels, and need more research and development to become commercially viable. However, Duke Energy’s recent innovation in green energy production is a potential insight into a future focused on hydrogen as renewable energy.

Duke Energy has built a first-of-its-kind, end-to-end, solar-powered green hydrogen facility in DeBary, Florida. It should be operational sometime in 2024. 


How Will the Green Hydrogen Plant Work?

Duke’s hydrogen plant was designed collaboratively to be self-contained and self-sustaining. The plant will create and store the hydrogen fuel it generates. Duke collaborated with grid modernization partners Sargent and Lundy and GE Vernova for valves, compressors, and piping to facilitate 100% hydrogen.

The solar setup will produce 74.5 MW of electricity for two hydrogen electrolyzers splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen will be transported to safe storage, while the oxygen will enter the atmosphere. The created hydrogen will then be used to power turbine generators that can provide power to the grid when needed.


Duke Energy’s plant will create, store, and use green hydrogen.

Duke Energy’s plant will create, store, and use green hydrogen. Image used courtesy of Duke Energy

The groundbreaking aspect of these electrolyzers is their leveraging of combustion technology. Engineers situated the electrolyzers with several gas combustion turbines. If there is a demand spike, Duke Energy can send its hydrogen stores to the combustion turbines for more balanced power dispersal. Combustion turbines have a power akin to a jet engine, allowing immediate electricity production.

As the plant initiates operations, it may use some fossil fuels. However, Duke Energy hopes to progress to entirely green hydrogen. The plant considered obstacles between hydrogen energy and public buy-in, such as dependability and responsiveness with the addition of combustion turbines. Intermittency is not an issue when structures are in place to maximize energy potential.


A Precedent for Green Energy Engineering?

Producing clean hydrogen at scale permanently shifts the renewable energy and fossil fuel sectors. Not only has Duke Energy proven it is financially possible to create an all-encompassing hydrogen-based business, but the achievement could empower other sectors and innovators at the same time. 

Duke Energy’s blueprint facilitates long-term energy storage. This matters as the grid undergoes modernization, and resilience is a constant concern. National grids are more capable of handling power demand influx when 100% clean energy stores are available for smart distribution. Connecting storage containers to on-demand distribution systems has become simpler. 

Hydrogen storage and transportation have been a stopgap in the sector’s adoption. Despite its light weight, hydrogen is tricky because of its flammability and freezing temperature requirements. Duke Energy created storage systems capable of housing hydrogen without putting it on trucks or airplanes to traverse the planet. Duke’s hydrogen plant asserts that localized, green energy might be the most sustainable solution for expansion.

The most pivotal change Duke Energy’s plant might cause is demonstrating that hydrogen creation does not need to rely on fossil fuels. Blue hydrogen, created by capturing natural gas byproducts, has been one of the most prominent forms of hydrogen. Duke Energy’s new plant offers an alternative to environmentally damaging forms of hydrogen generation.


The Impact of Green Hydrogen on Engineers

The rise in green hydrogen alongside combustion turbines requires engineers to reduce equipment costs swiftly, streamline designs, and collaborate with manufacturers for sustainable assembly and logistics. 


Site of Duke Energy’s green hydrogen plant in Florida.

Site of Duke Energy’s green hydrogen plant in Florida. Image used courtesy of Duke Energy


Engineers can take steps toward green hydrogen, including:

  • Sourcing electrolyzer materials ethically
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Using renewable energy for production
  • Considering bio-fuels

Duke Energy’s plan may also amplify other environmental technologies like fuel cells for sustainable transportation.


The Green Hydrogen Era

Duke Energy’s zero-emissions hydrogen power plant could pave the way for more to follow as more utility providers, engineers, and government officials recognize the viability of electrolyzers powered by renewable energy. When the organization breaks ground, it could signal a more reliable and hopeful future for authentic green hydrogen.