We are carrying out a unique energy system in Nieuwegein-Utrecht. Nine hundred homes, equipped with solar cells and rainwater harvesting systems, and a solar farm of 8.6 megawatt peak (MWp) and rain harvesting, will together produce 10 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity and 60,000 cubic meters of rainwater every year. This will allow us to meet all of the energy needs of these homes – for heating and electricity as well as transport. We will also meet the needs for demiwater, which is ultra-pure water, for the production of hydrogen. The demiwater will moreover be used in dishwashers and washing machines in the homes, with the added benefit of decreasing detergent use.
Thanks to subsurface storage, the system can satisfy the demand for heat and demiwater at any time of the year. This is how we will bring Solar Power to the People!
Solar Power to the People, bringing the energy of the sun to the people: that is what a sustainable energy and water system is all about. In one hour the sun gives us more energy than the world consumes in one year. There is enough sustainable energy, the issue is how to make use of this energy in the right form, at the right place and at the right moment. But the sun's energy not only provides us with heat and light, it also gives us wind, rain and biomass. Thanks to solar cells and wind turbines, we can easily produce all the energy we need in the form of electricity. While the rainfall amply satisfies our water needs. And a very little bit of biomass can provide us with the carbon we need to make chemical products.
Worldwide, in 2020 we will be able to produce electricity at a cost of 2 to 3 US cents per kWh through solar cells placed in the deserts; by about 2040, we expect this cost to drop to less than 1 US cent per kWh. By this same year, it should also be possible to have floating wind turbines in the ocean produce electricity at a cost of 1 US cent per kWh. We will transport this electricity to people in the form of hydrogen. By means of electrolysis, the electricity and water are converted into hydrogen and oxygen. We can then transport this hydrogen – compressed, liquified or converted into ammonia – anywhere in the world, and store and use it whenever we want. From hydrogen (electricity), carbon (biomass), oxygen (electricity) and nitrogen (air), we can make all of our chemical products in bulk. Moreover, with hydrogen and electricity we can also make all of our metals. In cities, villages or in the countryside, where we live and work, we will produce mainly electricity with solar cells. But in countries like the Netherlands we will produce too much in the summer and too little in the winter. We can convert the surplus summer electricity into hydrogen or heat.
We will harvest rainwater from the solar panels and buffer it underground. We can then subject this water to reverse osmosis to make the demiwater required to produce hydrogen, and then remineralise it to provide us with drinking water. The hydrogen can be transported and stored in a hydrogen network, the adapted natural gas network. We can use a heat pump to produce heat in the summer, store it underground and then use it in the winter for heating. On summer nights, electric car batteries can supply electricity, while in the winter the electricity we need will come from hydrogen fuel cells.
In the Nieuwegein-Utrecht project we will provide, for the first time, solar energy and rain for the production of electricity, heat, hydrogen and demiwater to people in a new housing development. We will bring Solar Power to the People: wherever, whenever and in whatever form they like!