Image: Tim Hornyak
Panasonic's test site near Kyoto, Japan is using solar panels, hydrogen fuel cells, and Tesla Megapack batteries to produce enough renewable energy for manufacturing.
The Panasonic factory near Kyoto, Japan, has become a testing ground where production is powered by renewable energy sources. A large number of solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells can generate enough energy, and the Tesla Megapack accumulates and stores it to operate part of the production site using only renewable energy.
“This may be the biggest hydrogen consumption site in Japan,” says Kawamura, a manager at the appliance maker’s Smart Energy System Business Division to CNBC. “We estimate using 120 tons of hydrogen a year. As Japan produces and imports more and more hydrogen in the future, this will be a very suitable kind of plant.”
The Panasonic factory in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture, covers an area of 52 hectares. It was originally built in 1969 for the production of household appliances. Part of the factory, referred to as H2 Kibou Field, is a sustainable energy demonstration facility that began operation in April. It consists of a 78,000-liter hydrogen fuel tank, a 495 kW hydrogen fuel cell array consisting of 99 5 kW fuel cells, 570 kW from 1,820 photovoltaic solar panels, and a 1.1 MW lithium-ion battery via Tesla Megapack. On one side of the H2 Kibou Field, a large display shows the amount of power generated in real-time by fuel cells and solar panels. About 80% of the energy generated comes from fuel cells, while the rest comes from solar energy.
“This is the first manufacturing site of its kind using 100% renewable energy,” says Hiroshi Kinoshita of Panasonic's Smart Energy System Business Division. “We want to expand this solution towards the creation of a decarbonized society.”
An AI-powered Energy Management System (EMS) automatically controls on-site power generation, switching between solar and hydrogen to minimize the amount of electricity purchased from the local grid operator.
“The most important thing to make a manufacturing greener is an integrated energy system including renewable energy such as solar and wind, hydrogen, batteries and so on,” says Takamichi Ochi, a senior manager for climate change and energy at Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting. “To do that, the Panasonic example is close to an ideal energy system.”
It is worth noting that the conversion of the factory to use hydrogen as an energy source is highly controversial. First, hydrogen is not really “green.” It depends on so-called gray hydrogen, which is generated from natural gas in a process that can release a lot of carbon dioxide. Tankers haul 20,000 liters of hydrogen, chilled in liquid form to minus 250 Celsius, from Osaka to Kusatsu, a distance of some 80 km, about once a week.
Secondly, the cost of generating electricity from hydrogen in Japan significantly exceeds the cost of using electricity from the grid, which is also expensive in the country, clearly hindering its widespread adoption. Panasonic management continues to hope that the cost of hydrogen will come down.
It would not necessarily make economic sense today, Kawamura says, “but we want to start something like this so it will be ready when the cost of hydrogen falls. Our message is: if we want to have 100% renewable energy in 2030, then we must start with something like this now, not in 2030.”
© 2022, Eva Fox | Tesmanian. All rights reserved.
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About the Author
Eva Fox joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover breaking news as an automotive journalist. The main topics that she covers are clean energy and electric vehicles. As a journalist, Eva is specialized in Tesla and topics related to the work and development of the company.