Norihiko Kawamura from Panasonic surveys Japan’s tallest hydrogen storage tank as they pass past at 285 kph. The 14-meter building, which also houses a sizable installation of solar panels, hydrogen fuel cells, and Tesla Megapack storage batteries, towers over the Tokaido Shinkansen Line lines outside Kyoto, the old capital. The energy sources can produce enough power to run a portion of the industrial facility using just renewable sources.
The manager of the appliance manufacturer’s Smart Energy System Business Division, Kawamura, claims that this location “may be the biggest hydrogen consumption site in Japan.” “We calculate that we use 120 tons of hydrogen annually. This will be a very appropriate type of plant as Japan manufactures and imports hydrogen at an increasing rate in the future.
Panasonic’s factory is located on a huge 52-acre property in Kusastsu, Shiga Prefecture, sandwiched between a high-speed rail line and a motorway. It was initially constructed in 1969 to produce commodities like refrigerators, one of the “three treasures” of home appliances that Japanese people wanted as their nation recovered from the wreckage of World War II, along with TVs and washing machines.
The H2 Kibou Field, a demonstration sustainable power facility that began operations in April, is located in one of the plant’s corners today. It comprises of a 78,000-liter hydrogen fuel tank, a 495-kW hydrogen fuel cell array made up of 99 5kW fuel cells, 1,820 photovoltaic solar panels placed in an inverted “V” form to maximize sunlight absorption, 570kW from lithium-ion battery storage, and 78,000-liter hydrogen fuel tank.
A huge display on one side of the H2 Kibou Field shows the 259kW of power generated in real-time by fuel cells and solar panels. Fuel cells produce about 80% of the electricity, with solar power making up the remaining 20%. Panasonic claims that the plant, which has an annual use of around 2.7 gigawatts and a peak power of roughly 680 kW, can supply all the energy required by the fuel cell factory located on the property. Panasonic believes it can serve as a model for the upcoming wave of innovative, sustainable production.
Using only renewable energy, this production facility is the first of its kind, according to Hiroshi Kinoshita of Panasonic’s Smart Energy System Business Division. “We want to broaden this approach in order to build a decarbonized civilization.”
Energy Management System (EMS) using artificial intelligence manages on-site power generation automatically, switching between solar and hydrogen, to reduce the amount of electricity purchased from the nearby grid operator. The EMS might prioritize the solar panels, choosing a combination of 300kW solar, 200 kW hydrogen fuel cells, and 100 kW storage batteries if, for instance, the fuel cell manufacturer requires 600kW on a sunny summer day. However, on a gloomy day, it can reduce the solar component and increase the hydrogen and storage batteries, which fuel cells charge at night.
According to Takamichi Ochi, senior manager for climate change and energy at Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting, an integrated energy system with renewable energy sources like solar and wind, hydrogen, batteries, and other such sources is the most crucial component to making manufacturing more environmentally friendly. The Panasonic example comes very near to being an optimal energy system for that.
Not green yet
Not all of the H2 Kibou Field is green. It is dependent on “grey hydrogen,” which is produced from natural gas in a method that can result in significant carbon dioxide emissions. Tankers transport 20,000 liters of liquid hydrogen that has been refrigerated to – 250 degrees Celsius, once or twice every week, from Osaka to Kusatsu. For the manufacturing of hydrogen, Japan has relied on nations like Australia, which has bigger supplies of renewable energy. However, a local supplier, Iwatani Corporation, has opened a technology center close to Osaka that is concentrated on producing green hydrogen, which is produced without the use of fossil fuels. The company partnered with Chevron earlier this year to build 30 hydrogen fueling sites in California by 2026.
The expense of adoption is another problem. Despite the fact that electricity is relatively expensive in Japan, using hydrogen to power a plant currently costs much more than using electricity from the grid. However, the company anticipates that efforts by the Japanese government and the business sector to improve supply and distribution will make the element significantly less expensive.
In order to attain cost parity with the electrical grid, Kawamura said, “our aim is that the cost of hydrogen will go down, so we can accomplish something like 20 yen per cubic meter of hydrogen.”
Panasonic also believes that increased demand for new energy products would result from Japan’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2050. Over 200,000 Ene-Farm natural gas fuel cells for home use have been produced at its fuel cell factory in Kusatsu. The cells, which went on sale in 2009, collect hydrogen from natural gas, produce electricity by combining it with oxygen, heat and store hot water, and provide up to 500 watts of emergency power for eight days during a catastrophe. A pure hydrogen version geared toward business users started to be sold last year. Because the governments in the U.S. and Europe have more zealous hydrogen cost-cutting policies than Japan, it intends to market fuel cells in those regions. The U.S. Department of Energy introduced the “Hydrogen Shot” program in 2021 with the goal of reducing the price of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per kilogram over a ten-year period.
Panasonic doesn’t have any immediate plans to expand the size of its H2 Kibou Field because it wants to wait for other businesses and manufacturers to use comparable energy systems.
According to Kawamura, “We want to start something like this so it will be available when the cost of hydrogen declines. It won’t necessarily make economic sense today. Our message is that we need to start with something similar now, not in 2030, if we want to have 100% renewable energy by that time.