ORIGINAL REPORTING: Green hydrogen could be the final piece in a zero-emissions future
Propelling the transition: Green hydrogen could be the final piece in a zero-emissions future; For the many things renewables and batteries don’t do, green hydrogen can be the zero-GHG alternative.
Herman K. Trabish, Aug. 17, 2020 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: Investor interest in green hydrogen is accelerating.
Renewables-generated electricity and battery energy storage can eliminate most power system greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially in the near term. But fueling heavy-duty vehicles, serving the unique needs of steel, chemical and other industries, heating aging buildings, and storing large amounts of energy for long durations are major challenges electricity cannot readily meet. Hydrogen extracted from water with renewables-generated electricity by an electrolyzer could be the best GHG-free alternative, analysts told Utility Dive.
"The best way of doing long duration, massive volume storage is by transforming electrons into molecules with an electrolyzer," ITM Power CEO Graham Cooley, who is building the world’s first GW-scale electrolyzer plant, told Utility Dive. "Green hydrogen molecules can replace the fossil-generated hydrogen used today."
GHG reduction mandates have driven renewables costs to unanticipated lows and are starting to do the same for electrolyzers, stakeholders, utility executives, and advocates told Utility Dive. Green hydrogen is forecast to be cost-competitive by 2030 or sooner, and utilities and heavy-duty vehicle fleet owners are developing pilots across a range of applications. The question is whether transforming renewable electrons to zero GHG hydrogen molecules is a necessary and cost-effective alternative to generating electricity with renewables and electrifying everything.
Electricity production creates 26.9% of U.S. GHGs, according to the most recent (2018) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data. But GHGs from transportation (28.2%), industry (22%) and buildings (12.3%) are more than double that. Hydrogen can replace fossil fuels to address GHGs in generation and non-power production uses, if it is green hydrogen made with zero-GHG electricity. But that's "less than 1% of all hydrogen production," according to Wood Mackenzie’s October 2019 report on green hydrogen.
With mandates for renewables driving excess wind, solar and hydropower production in more states, policymakers and stakeholders are already starting to see storage of green hydrogen as a two-way solution for reducing emissions in energy and industrial applications. It can help meet GHG reduction goals and address the problematic curtailments and depressed power prices that can arise due to overproduction of renewables.
Demand growth could make green hydrogen "cost-competitive in select markets by 2030" in its full range of applications, the WoodMac report said. And it should be a cost-competitive source of long duration storage by mid-century, according to a May National Renewable Energy Laboratory study. Economic sectors like chemical and industrial manufacturing, air travel, ocean shipping, and long distance, heavy duty transport will likely require some synthetic fuel, like green hydrogen, to eliminate GHGs. And green hydrogen may be the most affordable and flexible long duration storage option for any of those applications… click here for more