ENERGY WATCH #4 - September 11, 2018
Suddenly, hydrogen is everywhere again!
Either it’s coincidence or there is a lobby behind it, but I seem to be seeing one upbeat report on hydrogen and power-to-gas after the other.
I recently reported on Energy Post Weekly on three new major power-to-gas and hydrogen reports/initiatives – from Finland, Australia and the Netherlands. Just last week, IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) added yet another report showing “the potentially pivotal role hydrogen may play in a deeper energy transition”.
We have heard about the Hydrogen Economy before of course (Jeremy Rifkin’s book by that name appeared in 2002), but there is now new momentum behind the concept, thanks to the quickly declining costs of renewable power. The idea is that massive amounts of cheap “excess” solar and wind power can be used to produce hydrogen, which can be used in the gas grid or in fuel cells for electric cars. It can also be converted into methane and methanol (by adding CO2). Australian researchers recently showed that by converting hydrogen into ammonia it can be more safely and cheaply transported.
Hydrogen could especially be useful in transport and industry, notes IRENA in its new technology outlook Hydrogen from Renewable Power. The report notes that “Today, renewables account for around a quarter of global power generation and 167 GW (more than the total installed electricity capacity of Brazil) in 2017. Yet renewable energy’s role in sectors such as transportation and industry lags.”
“While electric vehicles (EV) sales continue to rise – IRENA believes more than one billion EVs may be on our roads by 2050 under a climate-safe path – electrifying transportation, buildings and industry is less viable, thus hindering the role renewable energy can play in these sectors”, according to the report. “Hydrogen produced by renewable energy may hold the key to successfully overcoming this challenge, and reducing end-use emissions.”
Here’s why hydrogen could be critical, according to IRENA:
- No economically viable option exists to reduce the carbon emissions produced by around one-third of the energy sector. Combustible fuels remain critical to transport and industrial practices from aviation to refining, where electrification is not suitable. This could make hydrogen from renewable energy the missing link in the transformation of the global energy system.
- Hydrogen from renewable energy can support higher shares of wind and solar energy in power sectors all over the world. Excess variable power (which is energy produced by intermittent wind and solar projects) can now be directed to hydrogen production and used in transport, industry or gas grid injection. Used in this way, hydrogen becomes a source of storage for renewable electricity, keeps power system flexible and helps to balance the grid.
- Hydrogen offers possibilities to tap high quality renewable energy resources. Often, the best solar and wind resources are located far from end-users in cities and major urban centres. Hydrogen, once produced, can be transported on land (like liquefied natural gas) as a global commodity unconstrained by grid connections.
- Hydrogen can take advantage of existing energy infrastructure. Up to a certain share, hydrogen can be injected into natural gas grids reducing the emissions of existing gas infrastructure, such as gas turbines for the power sector.
- Fuelled by hydrogen, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) offer consumers a low emission driving performance similar to a conventional vehicle when the hydrogen is produced from renewable energy sources. Fuel cells vehicles can complement electric vehicles, overcoming the weight, range and charging limitations associated with EVs.
The report concludes that “Hydrogen may become a key contributor to a potential 100 per cent renewable energy future.” The key challenge will be to reduce costs, which “is only possible through economies of scale. With enabling policies and regulatory frameworks in place, more private investment will be stimulated allowing technologies to mature resulting in cost reductions.”
Dolf Gielen, Director of the IRENA Innovation and Technology Centre, notes that “Hydrogen may have a very important role to play in the energy transition particularly if it can improve its cost-competitiveness. We believe that is possible if the production process utilises low-cost renewable electricity such as from wind and solar facilities. Large, off-grid hydrogen projects that are directly connected to solar and wind farms developed in the most suitable locations can potentially supply low-cost, 100% renewable, hydrogen. That will be a critical development for our low-carbon future.”