Hydrogen Talk with Petteri Laaksonen

Petteri Laaksonen

What roles will hydrogen and electricity play in power generation on the path to decarbonization? This is one of several questions that were explored during the March 31 webinar, Hydrogen Talk with Petteri Laaksonen.

This webinar is the first in the Path to 100’s Community of Experts Networking Call Series, also known as the Expert Exchange, which serves as a forum for experts to share knowledge on the best ways to decarbonize electricity to speed the transition to 100% renewable energy.

Jussi Heikkinen

Jussi Heikkinen

Featured speakers for the inaugural Community of Experts webinar were Petteri Laaksonen, Research Director in the School of Energy Systems at LUT University in Lappeenranta, Finland, and Jussi Heikkinen, Director, Wärtsilä Growth and Development, who also moderated the webinar.

The focus of Laaksonen’s presentation was green electrification and the hydrogen economy. He opened by discussing some of the ways in which electricity and hydrogen are produced and used for energy in different sectors of industry, in transportation, and in buildings. Central to this discussion was the efficiency of electricity versus hydrogen for use in applications and the infrastructure that is needed to support their use.

According to Laaksonen, “Hydrogen is not as efficient as electricity when it comes to transportation and the transport sector does not have the infrastructure and vehicles to support hydrogen’s use. However, hydrogen’s potential lies in its ability to be synthesized into different products, such as synthetic fuels.”

The focus of the presentation then shifted to a discussion of the location-related competitive advantages of hydrogen and electricity. One of the big advantages of producing and storing hydrogen and electricity as fuels onsite is cost, specifically the costs of shipping and lost efficiency when transporting from one location to another.

“When it comes to choosing which fuel, hydrogen or electricity, to use in an application, there are no clear winners. Each location will have its advantages,” said Laaksonen.

After Laaksonen’s presentation, Heikkinen spoke about the role of hydrogen in the optimal decarbonization path using a California modelling case study. Central to the discussion was a new approach to electricity storage that utilizes both short- and long-term storage strategies. He emphasized that on the optimal path, hydrogen in long-term storage can be tapped into as a fuel to help with seasonal system balancing and managing extreme weather.

Said Heikkinen, “Having seasonal storage in the form of fuel and flexible power plants can result in cost reductions from 126 to 50 dollars per megawatt hour and enable firm capacity that can be tapped into when there’s a heat wave or cloud cover.”

Missed the webinar? Watch the recording here. Want to learn more about the California case study’s modeling and results? Download the whitepaper.

 

 

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What does negative net zero carbon mean?

At-a-Glance:

Negative net-zero carbon. The phrase sounds redundant or oxymoronic. But it is a real thing. You can have less than net-zero carbon emissions if you capture and use emissions that otherwise would be released as greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. To learn more, read “What does negative net zero carbon mean?”

Key Takeaways:

  • Renewable natural gas (RNG), or biogas, is derived from organic waste material. Biogas can be captured and used as fuel in place of traditional natural gas.
  • According to a University of California Davis study, there is so much organic waste available in California that more than 20% of the state’s residential gas needs could be met with RNG.
  • California Air Resources Board (CARB) data shows that the average “carbon intensity” of all renewable natural gas vehicle fuel in the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program was negative for the first time in program history.
  • RNG made up nearly 90% of all natural gas vehicle fuel in the low carbon fuel program and consumed in California in the first half of 2020, up from around 77% in 2019, according to CARB data.
  • According to an EPA study, if you capture all the methane coming off of RNG capture potential areas, you could run about 200,000 trucks on renewable natural gas every year.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The role of natural gas in power generation is increasing as it is being more widely utilized to run power plants that are integrated with intermittent wind and solar systems. As the share of wind and solar capacity increases and the net load to thermal plants decreases, gas power plants can also provide peaking to system balancing. Renewable natural gas can be leveraged as a fuel source to replace fossil-fuel based natural gas, thus moving the world one step closer to decarbonization and a 100% renewable energy future.

 

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Toyota Motor North America: Committed to hydrogen fuel cell electric technology

At-a-Glance:

In light of mounting global environmental issues, Toyota Motor North America is continuing to take measures to achieve net zero carbon emissions and make a positive environmental impact. The Mirai, a signature innovation for the company, is just one development at the heart of such commitment, with Toyota openly expressing its passion and commitment for hydrogen. To learn more, read Toyota Motor North America: Committed to hydrogen fuel cell electric technology.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Toyota is committed to hydrogen fuel cell-electric technology because it is a clean, versatile, and scalable electrification platform that can meet a broad range of customers’ mobility needs with zero emissions.
  • Since 2015, over 6,600 Mirai have been sold or leased in California making it the most popular fuel cell vehicle on the road today.
  • A new, second-generation fuel cell system along with the additional hydrogen capacity gives the second generation Mirai a range of over 400 miles – as much, or more, range than a traditional gas-powered car.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Hydrogen has a high potential of becoming the fuel of the future, helping societies move towards decarbonization. So far, the market for hydrogen engines has been limited, but the need for them is beginning to emerge as the use of fossil fuels is gradually reduced and finally banned. Because hydrogen was not used as a power generation fuel in the past, the technologies to combust and use it in different applications need to be developed. Wärtsilä is testing concepts for both blending hydrogen into natural gas as well as pure hydrogen operation. The R&D process will continue, testing the fuel first on a small scale to define optimal dimensions and parameters for hydrogen engines.

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California to Test Whether Big Batteries Can Stop Summer Blackouts

At-a-Glance:

With summer’s heat approaching, California’s plan for avoiding a repeat of last year’s blackouts hinges on a humble savior – the battery. Giant versions of the same technology that powers smart phones and cars are being plugged into the state’s electrical grid at breakneck speed, with California set to add more battery capacity this year than all of China. To learn more, read “California to Test Whether Big Batteries Can Stop Summer Blackouts.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet. 

Key Takeaways:

  • By August, California will have 1,700 megawatts of new battery capacity – enough to power 1.3 million homes and, in theory, avert a grid emergency like that of 2020.
  • The state’s plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 may require installing 48.8 gigawatts of energy storage, according to a report by three state agencies – more than five times the output of all the grid-scale batteries currently operating worldwide.
  • But batteries do have two major limitations – time and cost. Most of the battery packs now available are designed to run for just four hours at a stretch. While that makes them a good fit for California, where electricity supplies can be strained in early summer evenings after solar power shuts  down, batteries would not have prevented the multi-day outage that paralyzed Texas in February. A battery can only operate for so long before it needs to recharge.

Path to 100% Perspective:

California’s current plan without thermal generation would require an investment of $309 billion between 2021 and 2045 to add another 1,624 GWh of battery storage and electricity generation cost would jump to a sky-high 128 $ / MWh. However,  with Power-to-Gas and thermal generation as long-term energy would save the state $176 billion between 2021 and 2045 and electricity generation cost would be $50 / MWh in 2045. More batteries without thermal generation is not affordable and is not enough to create a resilient or reliable grid.

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California duck curve “alive and well” as renewable, minimum net load records set

At-a-Glance:

High wind and solar production combined with low demand led the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) to reach a new record of 92.5% of load served by renewables and 98.1% of load served by carbon-free resources,CAISO reported. To learn more, read “California duck curve ‘alive and well’ as renewable, minimum net load records set.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The records were set on March 13. That same day,  CAISO established a new minimum net load, which is load minus wind and solar generation, 3.614 GW.
  • Wind generation averaged 22% of the total fuel mix on March 13, the highest daily average on record, according to CAISO data. That jump in wind generation drove wind and solar generation to a combined daily average of 39.2% of the mix, more than double the three-year average.
  • CAISO has made significant progress in working with the battery storage community to support system reliability during stressed operating conditions by establishing a minimum state of charge requirement that will be applied when day-ahead markets indicate the potential for insufficiency.
  • CAISO is also initiating longer-term market design work with storage providers to develop enhancements that will support system reliability while more effectively addressing the commercial and asset optimization needs of a diverse fleet of storage resources.

Path to 100% Perspective:

California has made impressive gains in its integration of renewables into the power supply mix. While these numbers are worth celebrating, there is much more work to do if the state is going to meet its 100% clean energy target by 2045. It is possible, and the Optimal Plan provides the

lowest transition costs by including flexible thermal generation. The flexible thermal generation assets can be converted as needed to use carbon-neutral fuels produced with excess solar and wind energy through Power-to-X, forming a large, distributed, long-term energy storage system.

 

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Study: California can Reach a Decarbonized Electric Grid Affordably and Reliably by 2045

At-a-Glance:

California can eliminate carbon emissions without markedly increasing the cost of electricity while preserving the reliability of the state’s grid, according to an analysis published in the online journal, Issues in Science and Technology. To learn more, read Study: California can Reach a Decarbonized Electric Grid Affordably and Reliably by 2045.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The study employed three different models of California’s electricity system to quantify the costs of a variety of future scenarios for new sources of clean, reliable electric power.
    • Each team’s model determined how much electricity would cost under a variety of scenarios.
    • The models also considered the physical implications of building the decarbonized grid, examining questions like how much infrastructure would be required; how quickly the state would need to build it; and how much land would be needed.
    • While each team approached the challenge differently, they all produced similar results that kept the cost of generation and transmission between 7 and 10 cents per kilowatt hour, comparable to the current costs of generation and transmission for California’s investor-owned utilities.
  • While the teams found that renewables like wind and solar will remain critical to the state’s path toward decarbonization, California will need to tap into clean electricity that is available on demand, for as long as it is needed, whenever it is needed.
    • Known as “clean firm power,” this type of energy includes geothermal and nuclear power as well as natural gas that utilizes carbon capture and storage technology to sequester CO2.
    • Clean fuels such as hydrogen manufactured with no life-cycle emissions could also be added to the mix.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Meeting California’s goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2045 while ensuring affordable and reliable power is a tremendous challenge. This analysis shows the potential of Power-to-Gas technology, in conjunction with energy storage, as a source of firm carbon-neutral power that can help the state achieve an optimal, decarbonized power system while keeping costs low for ratepayers and ensuring a secure supply of electricity.

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Los Angeles now has a road map for 100% renewable energy

At-a-Glance:

Los Angeles is one of the last places in California still burning coal for electricity — and if all goes according to plan, it could become one of the country’s first major cities to nearly eliminate fossil fuels from its power supply. In a first-of-its-kind study commissioned by the city and released, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded L.A. is capable of achieving 98% clean energy within the next decade and 100% by 2035, meeting one of President Biden’s most ambitious climate goals. And it can do so without causing blackouts or disrupting the economy, the federal research lab found, undercutting two of the most common arguments used by opponents of climate action. To learn more, read “Los Angeles now has a road map for 100% renewable energy.”  Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The NREL study team included nearly 100 people and was aided by the “Eagle” supercomputer at the research lab’s Golden, Colo., headquarters.
  • They conducted an energy systems analysis they believe to be unprecedented in scope and detail, running more than 100 million simulations since 2017 and integrating heaps of modeling data on electricity use, job creation, weather conditions, power lines and the potential for rooftop solar panels on houses across Los Angeles, among other topics.
  • Under a different scenario, L.A. would still get about 10% of its electricity from gas come 2045, down from 24% today.
  • Every pathway outlined by NREL includes geothermal power plants, which tap the Earth’s subterranean heat and can generate climate-friendly energy around the clock, as well as pumped hydropower, which can store solar and wind longer than a typical battery. Several pathways in the study also assume the city keeps its 5.7% ownership stake in Arizona’s Palo Verde nuclear plant.

Path to 100% Perspective:

California already has the natural gas infrastructure in place to follow the Optimal Path. The state’s existing gas storage capacity and distribution systems can easily provide the necessary 8 TWh of reliable, fully dispatchable renewable energy while using only 15 percent of existing underground gas storage capacity. This alleviates concerns around “stranded assets” since flexible generation plants can shift at any time to burn synthetic methane, even before 2045. California’s current plan without thermal generation would require an investment of $309 billion between 2021 and 2045 to add another 1,624 GWh of battery storage and electricity generation cost would jump to a sky-high 128 $ / MWh. However, the Optimal Path would save the state $176 billion with Power-to-Gas and thermal generation as long term energy storage between 2021 and 2045 and electricity generation cost would be $50 / MWh in 2045. More batteries without thermal generation is not affordable and is not enough to create a resilient or reliable grid.

 

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California Energy Officials Trying to Avoid Summer Blackouts

At-a-Glance:

State agencies and electric utilities are scrambling to shore up power supplies in hopes of avoiding the rolling blackouts that left 800,000 California homes and businesses without power during a record-breaking heat wave last August. To learn more, read California Energy Officials Trying to Avoid Summer Blackouts.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Gas-fired power plants could be called on more, instead of less. State regulators extended the life of outdated gas-fired power generators in Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Redondo Beach, and Oxnard, all scheduled to shutdown at the end of 2020.
  • The state’s “Final Root Cause Analysis” found the rolling blackouts on Aug. 14 and 15 resulted from a combination of increased demand, inadequate supplies, a now-fixed software glitch, the export of power to out-of-state utilities, gas-fired plants unable to run at full capacity and out-of-state suppliers with no energy left to sell to California.
  • Considering long-term needs, the state Public Utilities Commission has called for 8,000 megawatts of new clean energy over the next four years – including 2,000 megawatts by this summer.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The current plan in California is to use more gas fire plants, but by adding flexible generation to the mix, California could follow the Optimal Path and reduce the need for battery storage to 158 GWh. This would help the state avoid overbuilding its renewable generation and battery storage infrastructure and cut solar and wind capacity requirements by 8 GW compared to renewables plus battery storage alone. California already has the natural gas infrastructure in place to follow the Optimal Path. The state’s existing gas storage capacity and distribution systems can easily provide the necessary 8 TWh of reliable, fully dispatchable renewable energy while using only 15 percent of existing underground gas storage capacity. This alleviates concerns around “stranded assets” since flexible generation plants can shift at any time to burn synthetic methane, even before 2045.

 

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Joe Biden wants 100% clean energy. Will California show that it’s possible?

At-a-Glance:

There are several economic and environmental arguments for the $1.9 billion Pacific Transmission Expansion. The undersea power line would run south from San Luis Obispo County, hugging the California coast for 200 miles before making landfall in or near Los Angeles. It would be able to carry electricity from a fleet of offshore wind turbines, providing Southern California with clean power after sundown and helping to replace fossil-fueled generators. Fewer planet-warming emissions, less risk of blackouts, and no chance of igniting the wildfires sometimes sparked by traditional power lines are among the cases being made for this project. To learn more, read Joe Biden wants 100% clean energy. Will California show that it’s possible?” Reading this article could require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Policymakers across the country are looking to California to show that it’s possible to phase out fossil fuels. State law mandates 100% clean energy by 2045 and, in 2019, nearly two-thirds of California’s electricity came from climate-friendly sources.
  • As demonstrated by summer 2020’s rolling blackouts, there’s a clear longer-term need for clean energy sources that can be relied on when electricity demand is high and there’s not enough sunlight to go around.
  • The Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved a proposal that made its 2030 target to reduce emissions from power plants by 25% the basis for approving or rejecting new transmission lines, which is crucial for connecting renewable-energy facilities with cities that consume large amounts of electricity.
  • Climate advocates are urging Governor Newsom to play a more active role in utility infrastructure decisions to ensure the state is prepared to meet its clean energy targets.

Path to 100% Perspective:

California is a clean energy leader and state-level renewable energy infrastructure decisions made now will likely influence similar decisions across the country. State-of-the-art power-system modeling reveals that California can reach its renewable energy and emissions targets faster by utilizing flexible thermal generation. Flexible thermal generation assets can be converted as needed to use carbon-neutral fuels produced with excess wind and solar energy through power-to-gas technology, forming a large, distributed, long-term energy storage system. Such a system can provide a reliable source of electricity in cases of extreme or variable weather.

 

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Hydrogen advocates look to capitalize on California’s goal to replace diesel for back-up generation

At-a-Glance:

California regulators are on the lookout for cleaner alternatives to replace the widespread use of back-up diesel generation – particularly among data centers in Silicon Valley and other areas of the state – and some industry players think hydrogen could be the answer. To learn more, read “Hydrogen advocates look to capitalize on California’s goal to replace diesel for back-up generation.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Hydrogen fuel cells are advantageous for several reasons: they occupy less space than batteries, possess long-term storage capability, are quiet, reliable, and 100% zero-emission.
  • The key draw of hydrogen is its cost effectiveness at longer durations.
    • For a completely resilient, 100% renewable data center with zero emissions, using hydrogen would translate to a levelized cost of electricity amounting to $119 per MWh.
    • Batteries would lead to over $4,000 per MWh levelized cost to ensure 48 hours of backup power.
  • Taking a step back from the issue of replacing diesel back-up generators, environmental advocates are urging the state to prioritize the adoption of renewable, zero emissions technologies.
  • Ben Schwartz, policy manager at Clean Coalition, said California could adopt policies to promote the efficiency of solar and storage alternatives to diesel generation.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Renewable fuels, such as hydrogen, can help utilities overcome the variability challenges posed by seasonal conditions and extreme weather. One approach that can be leveraged in the transition to a 100% renewable energy system is power-to-gas (PtG). PtG technology uses excess energy from wind and solar to produce synthetic hydrogen and methane. The combination of stored fuel potential and thermal capacity yields a long-term energy storage system that acts like a gigantic distributed “battery.” Coupled with traditional, shorter-term storage technologies, this system can help meet seasonal energy demands when renewables are variable, and provide a reliable and secure supply of electricity during periods of extreme weather.

 

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The 10 Ways Renewable Energy’s Boom Year Will Shape 2021

At-a-Glance:

With the uncertainty of 2020 behind us, the new year kicked off with surging growth for renewable energy. Growth will likely continue into 2021, fueled in part by last year’s major turning points. Some analysts have started predicting that the U.S. power sector is approaching peak natural gas. That would leave room for solar-panel installations to build on the ongoing boom. To learn more, read The 10 Ways Renewable Energy’s Boom Year Will Shape 2021.” Reading this article may require a subscription. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Although U.S. residential solar installations dropped nearly 20% in the second quarter of 2020 from the first, by the end of the year, the sector bounced back and the country added 19 gigawatts of total solar power.
  • New battery capacity in the U.S. more than doubled in the third quarter of 2020 from the second, according to Wood Mackenzie and the U.S. Energy Storage Association. Projects in California were a key reason for the surge.
  • Electricity from Spain’s solar farms was up over 60% in 2020 compared to 2019, generating over 15,000 gigawatt hours of power, according to data from the country’s grid manager Red Electrica.
  • Renewable power beat out fossil fuels in the European Union for the first time, with approximately 40% of electricity in the first half of 2020 coming from renewable sources compared with 34% from plants burning fossil fuels.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Despite the upheaval caused by COVID-19 in 2020, the demand for renewable energy has not slowed and the path to 100% is becoming clearer as countries around the world commit to carbon-free sources of electricity. Developments such as China’s commitment to reaching carbon neutrality by 2060 and the European Union’s shift to renewables as the dominant power source provide further evidence that the tide is turning toward decarbonization. Ambitious goals, a commitment to research and development, and ongoing collaboration will continue to pave the path to a renewable energy future.

 

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California’s Big 2021 Decision on Grid Reliability: Expand Supply or Manage Demand?

At-a-Glance:

California is facing a major decision under a tight deadline — whether it should push for large-scale power plants and batteries to prevent a repeat of its August 2020 rolling blackouts this coming summer or turn to behind-the-meter resources such as batteries and demand response. To learn more, read California’s Big 2021 Decision on Grid Reliability: Expand Supply or Manage Demand?” 

Key Takeaways:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a ruling in late December asking the state’s three big investor-owned utilities to find ways to expand supply-side capacity before August 2021.
  • Demand-side solutions – behind-the-meter batteries, smart thermostats, and commercial and industrial demand response – may be a more realistic set of options to meet CPUC’s August 2021 deadline.
  • The joint California agency root-cause analysis into last summer’s grid emergency highlighted “demand response and flexibility” as the resources most likely to be able to be added by mid-2021.
  • Existing rules may be dampening the potential for capturing California’s nation-leading roster of behind-the-meter resources, which adds up to gigawatts’ worth of latent capacity.
  • Barriers aren’t stopping companies from enlisting new demand-response and behind-the-meter-battery customers in California. Oakland-based startup, OhmConnect raised $100 million in December 2020 from Google-affiliated Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners to build out 550 MW of residential load flexibility via smart thermostats and Wi-Fi-connected smart plugs.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Opening up greater demand-response flexibility in California will not only help prevent grid emergencies like those experienced during the rolling blackouts last summer; it will also help advance California’s efforts on the Path to 100% clean electricity. California should pursue an approach that includes adding new innovative demand response systems and more thermal generation flexibility.

 

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