Operating Strategies for Dispatchable PEM Electrolyzers that Enable Low-Cost Hydrogen Production

Research output: NRELPresentation


Hydrogen is a pathway to enabling decarbonization across multiple economic sectors that cannot be directly decarbonized with electricity including heat for industrial operations, medium- and heavy-duty transportation applications, long-duration energy storage, and as a feedstock for chemical synthesis. Producing hydrogen at low costs and carbon footprint is likely essential to economically decarbonize these otherwise "hard to decarbonize" sectors. Low-temperature polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolysis produces hydrogen from water and electricity and is a rapidly developing pathway towards making hydrogen at the scales required for decarbonization applications. The levelized cost of electrolytic hydrogen is dependent on the capital cost, efficiency, and durability of the electrolyzer system as well as the price of electricity supplied to the electrolyzer and the annual utilization of the electrolyzer (capacity factor). Electricity price and capacity factor depend on the source of energy that the system uses and impact other economic factors. Electricity price and capacity factor and the connections between other aspects of hydrogen production via PEM electrolyzers are the focus of this work. PEM electrolyzers have conventionally been operated at high capacity factors using electricity purchased from utilities with a constant price throughout the year. To achieve lower effective electricity prices, recent work has investigated opportunities for electrolyzers to purchase electricity in wholesale markets, where the cost of electricity varies hourly. This option can lead to lower electricity costs when the electrolyzer is a controllable load that ramps up and down rapidly and turns on and off frequently. This configuration and operating strategy capitalizes on times of low wholesale electricity prices and results in lower hydrogen levelized costs than constant operation due to reduced electricity costs even though the reduced capacity factor increases the cost of recovering the capital investment. Cycling on and off frequently also has implications for electrolyzer durability. An electrolyzer configuration where it is directly connected to renewable generation such as wind or solar, only running when the generator is producing energy, has similar implications on operating strategy, hydrogen levelized cost, capacity factor, and durability. This work provides insight into the relationships between dispatchable electrolyzer operating strategies and the cost of producing hydrogen from these systems, outlining strategies and opportunities to minimize production costs while minimizing operations that are likely to negatively impact system durability and efficiency. We find strategies that minimize electrolyzer cycling and the resulting durability impacts while increasing the hydrogen levelized cost only slightly above the minimum. We also find opportunities for batteries to minimize the number of cycles in systems directly connected to renewable generation. These findings outline key opportunities for future electrolyzer deployments and the synergistic benefits between electrolyzers and increased deployment of renewable energy generation like wind and solar. They also inform research and development that is reducing electrolyzer capital cost while managing durability impacts.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages20
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NamePresented at the International Conference on Electrolysis, 20-23 June 2022, Golden, Colorado

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-6A20-83166


  • electricity markets
  • electrolysis
  • hydrogen
  • PEM
  • solar
  • technoeconomic analysis
  • wind


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