THE TEXAS PANHANDLE
The Panhandle of Texas has been producing food, fiber and energy for about 150 years. Much of this production was based on harvesting and utilizing natural resources including wind and water. Now water from the Ogallala aquifer is dropping precipitously in some regions. In the Lubbock area at least one farmer who had seven wells operating seven center pivot irrigation systems now has all seven wells tied to one center pivot and it operates only about 2 weeks before it is dry. Farmer Kelly Kettner has stated “Most of my farms have less than half of the water they did even 5 years ago.” The Ogallala aquifer water level in Floyd County decreased by 12.98 feet in the past year according to the High Plains Underground Water District.
Water for irrigation is becoming a crisis. Irrigated cotton has been an economic staple of the southern Texas Panhandle but each gallon of water produces only about $0.000943 worth of cotton. Similarly, a gallon of water produces only about $0.000977 worth of corn. For comparison, 2.3 gallons of water will yield 1 kilogram of hydrogen currently retailing in California for $16/kg; 1 kg of hydrogen has the energy of 1 gallon of gasoline or 0.8 gallons of diesel fuel. The water required to produce 1 gallon of gasoline from a refinery ranges from about 3 to 6 gallons, and sometimes as much as 9 gallons, and that does not include the water initially required to develop and fracture the oil well. One gallon of ethanol requires 2,400 gallons of water to grow the corn and process it into a fuel or as a gasoline additive. Thermoelectric plants use about 10% of the freshwater used in the U.S. today; by comparison, energy produced from wind and solar requires no water.
Wind and solar on the Southern High Plains are being used to produce electricity for the grid. Typically, wind or solar power going to the grid is valued at about $0.02 per kilowatt. During peak demand the value may increase to about $0.25/kw during the summer and $0.12/kw during the winter. During the night in the winter when electrical demand is at its lowest wind farm operators may be paying $0.04 to $0.06/kW to stay connected to the grid. It’s these low prices that make production of hydrogen on the Southern High Plains attractive and with the potential of becoming the Panhandle’s next big renewable cash crop.
Bill Paetzold of Hereford Texas has been making hydrogen by electrolysis of water for about 20 years. He placed three Burma-Shave like signs along his highway fence line saying
When my well went dry,
I did not cry,
I started farming the sky.
He started producing hydrogen using wind and solar power. He bought the first hydrogen production system produced by Millennium Reign Energy and has been through at least three upgrades and now has the first hydrogen production, compression and fueling station (to our knowledge) in Texas. Hydrogen Bill has a hydrogen fuel cell Polaris ATV and a Toyota Mirai, the only FCEVs we are aware of in Texas not counting forklifts.
WALMART DISTRIBUTION CENTER
The Walmart Distribution Center in Plainview has 150 hydrogen fuel cell forklifts serviced by PlugPower. They are using steam reformation of natural gas to produce hydrogen. PlugPower has installed 8,700 hydrogen fuel cell forklifts in 37 Walmart distribution centers and has over 25,000 hydrogen units in operation. Forklifts with fuel cells operate longer, move more loads per hour, save approximately 1.5 to 2 hours every 24 hours, and do not require the space nor time to charge or switch out batteries as found in conventional electric forklifts. The only emission is water vapor.
Locations where hydrogen fuel cell forklifts are operated provide an additional advantage to the community, education. These facilities are training a staff of employees who are working with this technology on a daily basis and they in turn provide education and acceptance for others in their community to consider and transition to the hydrogen economy.
AROUND THE WORLD
In 2018 the world used 10 tera watts (10,000,000,000,000 watts) of electrical power and by 2050 will need an additional 15 tera watts for a total of 25 tera watts. Wind and solar are expected to contribute a large portion of this new power. Texas lead the nation in wind power in 2018 and continues to do so in 2019. However, rather than putting wind power on the grid for $0.02/kw, or even less, it could be used to produce hydrogen.
GOLDEN SPREAD ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE
Golden Spread Electric Cooperative is actually the co-op of sixteen smaller regional co-ops. Land owners, primarily ranchers and farmers, are the members who formed and own these small regional cooperatives. The board of directors administering these co-ops was put there by the land owners and is responsive to the land owners. Golden Spread is the co-op of these co-ops and responds to the direction of the sixteen member co-ops.
Wind farms are sitting on land they do not own but manage under a lease agreement. Land owners derive value from these leases as power is placed on the grid. Land owners are receiving a minimum payment when the power is placed on the grid at $0.02 or less per kilowatt.
An alternative that would place much more value in the hands of the land owners would be to use the cheap electricity to produce hydrogen. Electricity at $0.02/kw would produce 1 kg of hydrogen for an energy cost of $1. That $1 worth of hydrogen, a quantity of 1 kg containing the energy found in 1 gallon of gasoline, had a retail value of $16 in California on 26 August 2019.
The land owners and co-ops should be able to find a way to capture these higher values from the energy produced on the Texas Panhandle. One method would be to establish wind and solar farms dedicated to the production of hydrogen. Solar panels on a barn, a commercial building or even a home could power equipment to produce carbon-free hydrogen. Locally produced hydrogen could be used to fuel vehicles, forklifts and other equipment on farms, ranches, municipalities and to power locally operating fleet vehicles.