How To Light A Fuse Under The Green Hydrogen Economy

At-a-Glance:

Generating electricity from clean hydrogen has always been elusive. But that may change in the not-so-distant future: the technological, political and environmental factors – the variables to create the hydrogen economy – are aligning. What remains a sticking point, though, is the cost factor. To learn more, read How To Light A Fuse Under The Green Hydrogen Economy.” Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

  • More than 99% of the world’s hydrogen production comes from fossil fuels (called grey hydrogen). The goal is to get to green hydrogen, where solar and wind power is used to produce electricity that is put through an electrolyzer to create pure hydrogen gas.
  • In the interim, some say that a mix of green and blue (produced from natural gas using carbon capture and storage) hydrogen is a faster and more optimal solution. Currently, green hydrogen can be blended with natural gas at a rate of 15% while getting to 30% is doable.
  • The Los Angeles Department of Power and Water has agreed with Utah authorities to buy much of the output of the Intermountain Power Project which will generate hydrogen from wind and solar.
    • The plant will convert to a natural-gas-combined-cycle facility that can burn hydrogen as a fuel.
    • By 2025, 30% of electricity will come from hydrogen and by 2045, all of it will.
  • In its Hydrogen Economy Outlook, Bloomberg New Energy Finance says that green hydrogen could cut global greenhouse gases by 34% by 2050.
  • “Hydrogen has potential to become the fuel that powers a clean economy,” writes Kobad Bhavnagri, lead author of the Bloomberg report. “If the clean hydrogen industry can scale up, many of the hard-to-abate sectors could be decarbonized using hydrogen, at surprisingly low costs.”

Path to 100% Perspective:

Hydrogen and synthetic fuels, such as hydrogen-based renewable synthetic methane, promise to be an important piece of the decarbonization puzzle. Creating such a flexible power system would accelerate the global transition to 100% clean energy.

 

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California wastes its extra solar, wind energy. Could hydrogen be the storage key?

At-a-Glance:

No amount of solar panels and wind turbines alone will be enough for California to reach its goal of a clean electrical grid unless the state can solve its energy storage problem. The state already generates an abundance of energy from wind and solar farms, particularly during the sunny and blustery spring and early summer months. But it loses much of that energy because it has nowhere to store it, and unlike fossil fuels, the sun and wind are not dispatchable, and therefore are unable to be called on to generate power 24 hours a day. Utilities must rely on gas-fired power plants to keep up with California’s energy demands during peak demand periods. To learn more, read California wastes its extra solar, wind energy. Could hydrogen be the storage key? Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

  • Some experts and legislators say the missing puzzle piece could be hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, which can be used as a zero-emission fuel for power plants, vehicles and machinery.
  • “I would say it’s almost the missing piece of the puzzle,” said Jussi Heikkinen, Director of Growth and Development at Wärtsilä Energy, a Finnish technology company that has built battery storage systems in California. “We don’t need to get rid of the power plants, but we need to get rid of fossil fuels.”
  • State Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, is carrying a bill, SB18, that specifies the state’s climate and electrical grid plans include “green hydrogen,” or hydrogen gas that is produced using electricity from renewable sources.
  • According to Jack Brouwer, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center, hydrogen is more effective for longer storage than batteries because it doesn’t lose energy over time and can be stored underground easily and cheaply.
  • Hydrogen advocates say that California ultimately needs a mix of hydrogen and batteries to reduce carbon emissions.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Investing in green hydrogen will be important as California looks to decarbonize its energy system. The state can turn this into a win-win by harnessing the excess power generated by existing wind and solar farms to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen can be stored and turned back into electricity using flexible thermal assets. Policies that enable rapid reductions in fossil fuel use and rapid increases in renewable generation in the electricity sector are a valuable piece to accelerating the decarbonization process. Legislation should steer electricity-sector decisions about investments, infrastructure and technology toward decisions that quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pave the way for a 100% renewable energy future

 

 

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California’s pathway to 100% clean electricity begins to take shape, but reliability concerns persist

At-a-Glance

California’s energy agencies are taking a first stab at assessing possible pathways to the state’s ambitious goal of achieving 100% renewable and zero-carbon electricity by 2045, but concerns about system reliability — especially in light of the rolling blackouts — continue to plague regulators. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), California Energy Commission (CEC) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a draft report on getting to a 2045 clean electricity portfolio, which indicated the goal is technically achievable. To learn more, read “California’s pathway to 100% clean electricity begins to take shape, but reliability concerns persist.”

Key Takeaways

  • The report presents important initial insights into potential paths for the electric sector, Mary Nichols, CARB chair, said at the workshop, adding that “the initial work highlights the enormous challenge ahead, requiring a complete transformation in the type of electricity that Californians consume.”
  • California’s carbon goals are part of legislation passed by the state in 2018, called Senate Bill 100, which calls for 100% of electric retail sales in the state to come from renewable energy and zero-carbon resources by the end of 2045.
  • The bill also required the three energy agencies to create a report evaluating the policy and follow it up with updates at least every four years. The agencies intend to submit a final version of the initial report early next year.
  • Based on this analysis, the report concludes that achieving the 100% clean electricity goal is technically achievable, and could cost around 6% more than the baseline 60% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) future by 2045, although that could change if renewables continue to decline in cost at a faster rate than anticipated by the models.

Path to 100% Perspective

A place where the transition to renewables has progressed quite far already is California. The lessons learned along the way have been plentiful, but powerful nonetheless. The record-breaking heat wave that swept across the western part of the country and caused a series of blackouts in the Golden State, offered additional modelling opportunities to demonstrate the most effective mix of energy to accommodate any extreme weather situation during the transition, and to meet clean power mandates. The big challenge facing California and the rest of the world is how to integrate renewables into the grid while building security of supply and a sustainable power system with an affordable plan for everyone involved.

 

 

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Hydrogen era no longer a distant mirage

At-a-Glance

For decades oil producers have stored fossil fuels in manmade caverns carved into naturally occurring salt domes, deep below the surface of the U.S. Gulf Coast. Now, this hydrogen infrastructure will form the center of several marquee initiatives launched in 2020 to unlock the much broader potential of the most abundant element in the universe. To learn more, read “Hydrogen era no longer a distant mirage.”

Key Takeaways

  • Hydrogen will power fuel cells to drive passenger vehicles, heavy-duty trucks, ships, airplanes, as well as heat and light buildings. It will enable levels of decarbonization unimaginable using only renewable resources and battery storage.
  • With limited demand and no real scale to date, green hydrogen sourced from renewable energy can cost four times as much as other options, according to the International Energy Agency.
  • “A truly hydrogen-based economy … appears out of reach, at least before 2030,” S&P Global Ratings said in a report released in November. “Energy transitions typically take decades.”

Path to 100% Perspective

Green hydrogen makes up less than 0.1% of the world’s 70 million-metric-ton annual hydrogen supply, according to the Green Hydrogen Coalition, a California-based nonprofit advocacy group. “Gray” hydrogen, produced from natural gas using high-temperature steam methane reforming, and “brown” hydrogen, made by gasifying coal, account for almost all hydrogen in use today. The chief customers are oil refineries, chemical plants and industrial manufacturers such as steel and cement makers. “Blue hydrogen,” a lower-carbon variant, also uses fossil fuels as a source but offsets emissions with carbon capture and storage. Blue and green hydrogen are not widely used at this time.

 

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Q&A Series: Ricardo González Romero Looks at Renewable Energy Opportunities Post-Pandemic

Ricardo González Romero is a General Manager at Anabática Renovables in Santiago, Chile.  He’s a subject matter expert on renewable energy serving in several different roles in the energy sector. He is also a guest professor at three different universities throughout the Latin American region.

Question:  Please describe yourself and your work. 

Ricardo: I am a General Manager at Anabática Renovables in Santiago, Chile, where my background and expertise is in consultancy, management, team restructuring, renewable energy support, along with greenfield wind and solar project development. Anabática Renovables provides financial and investment advisory services, reliable third-party assessment, and independent technical assessment for companies seeking to participate in Latin America´s wind and solar energy market.

My specialties within the renewable energy sector are in valuation of assets; mergers and acquisitions; project evaluation; management project; wind energy analysis; business development; and energy technology assessment. In addition to my current position, I serve as a guest professor at the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional in Argentina; the Universidad de Chile, and the Universidad de Zaragoza in Spain.

Q: With your extensive experience in the region and work with Anabática Renovables, could you please describe the current state of the renewable energy sector in Chile?

Ricardo: Well, we are still growing up. Even though 2020 was a terrible year, our business has experienced interesting growth and next year looks to be going the same. Decarbonization, green hydrogen, investment opportunities, batteries, and more make the position we occupy interesting for all of us who are in it.

Q: Why is investing in renewable energy so important for Chile? And what sectors offer the most promise?

Ricardo: That is difficult to know in the middle of this pandemic! Chile needs to change. It needs more and more green energy to face a greener future and make the national industry more competitive and clean. It means we have to clean up our electrical matrix. We also need to pursue new projects, while the country needs to offer this possibility in a stable market with clear rules.

Q: Why do you consider the need to make a good return on an investment a main barrier or challenge for Chile on its path to clean and affordable energy?

Ricardo: In general, the world does not offer too many opportunities to invest (safely, on a regular basis). In our business, there is still a lot of competition and Chile, due to its economic conception, does not facilitate a return on investment as it happens in many other countries. It is necessary to be extremely cautious with the economic-financial projections, especially with regard to the marginal cost.

Q: Finally, based on your experience and work at Anabática Renovables, how can Chile lead the way towards 100 percent renewable energy? And what progress do you foresee for the region in the coming years?

Ricardo: Working hard. Making good estimations, considering externalities, and paying attention to local communities. We need to think in terms of renewables and batteries.

 

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New Energy Outlook Projects Massive Energy Sector Shift Through 2050

At-a-Glance:

BloombergNEF (BNEF) published its New Energy Outlook 2020 (NEO) in October. The NEO projects the evolution of the global energy system over the next 30 years. This report is widely utilized by planners, strategic thinkers, and investors in developing long-term forecasts and plans. One of the NEO’s most notable projections is that the sharp drop in energy demand from the Covid-19 pandemic will remove about 2.5 years’ worth of energy sector emissions between now and 2050. To learn more, read New Energy Outlook Projects Massive Energy Sector Shift Through 2050.” Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

Other notables from the report:

  • Electric vehicles (EVs) reach upfront price parity with Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles before 2025.
  • Gas is the only fossil fuel to grow continuously through the outlook, gaining 0.5% year-on-year to 2050.
  • Coal demand peaked in 2018 and collapses to 18% of primary energy by mid-century, from 26% today.
  • In the NEO Climate Scenario, the clean electricity and hydrogen pathway requires 100,000 terawatt-hours (TWh) of power generation by 2050. This power system is 6-8 times bigger than today’s and generates five times the electricity.
  • Green hydrogen provides just under a quarter of total final energy in 2050 under the Climate Scenario.
  • Reducing emissions well below two degrees under the clean electricity and green hydrogen pathway requires between $78 trillion and $130 trillion of new investment between now and 2050.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The dramatic fall in once-expensive renewable and flexible capacity costs has transformed energy investment over the last decade and the pace of change in accelerating. The cost of offshore wind, for example, has fallen by 63% since 2012. With a renewed focus on future-proofing their business models, utilities have increased renewable energy investments, taking advantage of the certainty that clean energy brings to the balance sheet. In effect, adopting renewable energy, coupled with flexible generation and storage for system balancing, is akin to purchasing unlimited power up-front, as opposed to placing bets on fluctuating oil prices and exposure to narrowing environmental regulation.

 

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Black & Veatch leaving coal projects in the dust

At-a-Glance:

Engineering and construction company Black & Veatch has announced it is ceasing participation in coal-based design and construction projects in an attempt to focus on more renewable energy work. Black & Veatch has been its increasing focus on renewable energy and energy storage projects over the last decade. The transition away from coal-based jobs will allow the firm to more fully focus on sustainable energy projects. To learn more, read “Black & Veatch leaving coal projects in the dust.”

Key Takeaways:

  • In an example of the company’s move to clean energy projects, earlier this year it was selected to work on the Intermountain Power Agency Renewal Project, one of the earliest installations of combustion turbine technology designed to use a high percentage of green hydrogen.
  • Black & Veatch will still carry out projects to convert coal plants to cleaner energy sources, as well as decommissioning existing coal plants. The biggest change is the contractor will no longer extend the life of any coal facility.
  • “Any decision of this nature will have an impact, but our global client base is overwhelmingly pushing toward a zero-carbon future,” Mario Azar, president of Black & Veatch’s power business said. “The fundamental challenge for the industry is whether to look to the future or continue to look to the past.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The influence of governments and organizations moving toward a zero-carbon future continues to expand to companies responding to the growing demand of their customers and investors. As the investment in energy-related innovation grows,  the renewable energy future presents more affordability, flexibility and reliability for organizations striving to accelerate decarbonization efforts.

 

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Green hydrogen: The zero-carbon seasonal energy storage solution

At-a-Glance:

Founder and former executive director of the California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA), Janice Lin, explains the process of developing California’s 100% renewable portfolios and modelling California’s clean energy storage needs. During the process, Lin discovered the viability of green hydrogen as the solution to balance the grid. In 2019, she founded the Green Hydrogen Coalition (GHC) to research how hydrogen can offer the large-scale storage capacity and flexible discharge horizons to support a global clean energy future. To learn more, read “Green hydrogen: The zero-carbon seasonal energy storage solution.”

Key Takeaways:

  • CESA deduced that of the commercially available solutions, green hydrogen was the only low-carbon, potentially economically viable option to support seasonal, dispatchable, scalable energy storage for the grid.
  • Hydrogen gas can power the grid via multiple pathways, either through conversion in a fuel cell or by direct combustion in a gas turbine. Many gas turbines are already able to combust a blend of natural gas and hydrogen, and several leading manufacturers are developing new gas turbines that can consume 100% hydrogen gas.
  • By repurposing existing energy infrastructure, green hydrogen has the potential to make the clean energy transition affordable, reliable and scalable.
  • CESA changed their definition of energy storage to include hydrogen storage technologies, including purpose-built storage facilities as well as pipelines.
  • Green hydrogen is the ideal seasonal energy storage medium:
    • Hydrogen is abundant, offers separate power and energy scaling, can be produced from renewable energy and can be stored at scale.
  • Although lithium-ion energy storage is an important part of the toolkit, there is just not enough lithium to support the needs of a sustainable and reliable clean energy future.
  • Only abundant, available hydrogen can offer the large-scale storage capacity and flexible discharge horizons to support a global clean energy future.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Green hydrogen is produced with water, an electrolyzer and electricity generated from renewable energy. Hydrogen offers interesting possibilities for decarbonized power generation. In a power system that incorporates renewables and battery storage, for example, some of the excess renewable energy could be used to produce hydrogen that could be used in a power plant to balance the power system at times when cloudy and calm weather may reduce the output of solar and wind power plants. Hydrogen could be produced when electricity need is low, stored relatively cheaply, and used when needed. This would lower the overall cost of the clean electricity. Incorporating hydrogen in this way would add a long-term energy storage solution to the short-term storage solution provided by batteries.

 

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Sempra utilities pitch demonstration program as first step to California hydrogen injection standard

At-a-Glance:

Sempra Energy subsidiaries Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) plan to launch California’s first hydrogen blending demonstration program as a first step toward creating a hydrogen injection standard for the state. The first proposed project would begin with a 1% hydrogen blend in an isolated section of primarily polyethylene plastic distribution system and eventually could increase to as much as 20% hydrogen. The location of the project will be selected in early 2021 and the utilities plan to implement more such blending demonstrations in their service territories. To learn more, read “Sempra utilities pitch demonstration program as first step to California hydrogen injection standard.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Adding hydrogen to California’s resource mix could allow the state to build a much more efficient power system, and reduce the need to overbuild solar and battery storage capacity, according to Jussi Heikkinen, Director of Growth and Development, Americas at Wärtsilä Energy Business.
  • Blending hydrogen with natural gas is part of SDG&E and SoCalGas’ strategies to decarbonize their natural gas systems, according to Sempra — the utilities envision using excess renewable energy to produce green hydrogen, which can then be injected into the natural gas grid.
  • SoCalGas and SDG&E briefed regulators on the safety precautions they intend to take with the program, including ensuring that the blend is compatible with behind-the-meter appliances, implementing leak surveys, and creating a specific customer protocol and emergency response for hydrogen.
  • The proposed blending projects are an important first step in the right direction, Heikkinen said — but to reach a high level of decarbonization, it is necessary to blend fairly high shares of hydrogen into natural gas because of its lower density. In a 25% hydrogen, 75% natural gas blend by volume, for example, less than 10% of the resulting energy comes from hydrogen, he explained.”When we start blending, then we should go for higher blends as fast as possible. When you start to go beyond 50%, then you start to make a difference,” Heikkinen added.

Path to 100% Perspective:

There are some safety risks. Hydrogen is extremely flammable and burns very fast. Special caution needs to be taken when engineering a product using more than 25% hydrogen.

Special safety regulations for its use need to be in place before it becomes widely available. In some locations, these regulations are still under development. A bigger issue is that there is no infrastructure globally to produce, store, and distribute hydrogen at scale. It all needs to be built. This infrastructure will be expensive and will also take some time. Additionally, there is the risk that hydrogen will not be the fuel of choice, so there is some hesitation to invest in the necessary infrastructure. This in turn limits the attractiveness of hydrogen, so it’s a difficult challenge to solve.

 

Photo: Sempra

An $11 trillion global hydrogen energy boom is coming. Here’s what could trigger it

At-a-Glance:

Storing fuel in salt caverns isn’t new, but hydrogen’s growing role in decarbonization has revitalized interest in the concept. The Advanced Clean Energy Storage project in Utah aims to build the world’s largest storage facility for 1,000 megawatts of clean power, partly by putting hydrogen into underground salt caverns. The concept is quickly gaining momentum in Europe. To learn more, read An $11 trillion global hydrogen energy boom is coming. Here’s what could trigger it.

Key Takeaways:

  • With the cost of renewables such as solar power falling, green hydrogen is being touted as one part of the energy mix that will lead toward decarbonization, with applications ranging from consumer and industrial power supplies to transportation and spaceflight.
  • By 2050, U.S. demand for hydrogen could increase anywhere from 22 million to 41 million metric tons per year, up from 10 million today, according to a study released this month by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
  • Bank of America believes hydrogen technology will generate $2.5 trillion in direct revenue — or $4 trillion if revenue from associated products such as fuel cell vehicles is counted — with the total market potential reaching $11 trillion by 2050.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Hydrogen has a high potential of becoming the fuel of the future, helping societies move towards decarbonization. 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. Hydrogen burns with air to produce water, without any carbon emissions. It is perfect for use in 100% clean energy portfolios.

 

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How to Build a Green Hydrogen Economy for the US West

At-a-Glance:

Out in Utah, a coal-fired power plant supplying electricity to Los Angeles is being outfitted to eventually be able to run on hydrogen, created via electrolysis with wind and solar power and stored in massive underground caverns for use when that clean energy isn’t available for the grid. This billion-dollar-plus project could eventually expand to more renewable-powered electrolyzers, storage and generators to supply dispatchable power for the greater Western U.S. grid. It could also grow to include hydrogen pipelines to augment and replace the natural gas used for heating and industry or supply hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle fleets across the region. To learn more, read “How to Build a Green Hydrogen Economy for the US West.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The Western Green Hydrogen Initiative (WGHI) is a group representing 11 Western states, two Canadian provinces and key green hydrogen industry partners. WGHI launched in November to align state and federal efforts to create a regional green hydrogen strategy including a large-scale, long-duration renewable energy storage regional reserve.
  • At the heart of this effort are two projects in central Utah. The first is the Intermountain Power Project, a coal-fired power plant operated by the state-owned Intermountain Power Agency, which supplies municipal utilities in Utah and California, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. By 2025, Intermountain will be converted to turbines to supply 840 megawatts of power using natural gas blended with 30 percent hydrogen, a proportion that will rise to 100 percent hydrogen over the coming decades.
  • The second project is the Advanced Clean Energy Storage (ACES) project, which will invest roughly $1 billion to develop a nearby underground salt dome to store compressed hydrogen. ACES will provide up to 150,000 megawatt-hours of energy storage capacity, a scale that dwarfs the lithium-ion battery capacity being installed in California and across the Intermountain West.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Whether green hydrogen can cost-effectively replace natural gas for its myriad current uses will depend largely on the carbon-reduction drivers involved. But it will also require a redefinition of what it’s doing for the broader electrical system, said Jussi Heikkinen, Director of Growth and Development for the Americas division of Wärtsilä Energy Business. Wärtsilä’s engines power about one-third of the world’s cargo ships and a good deal of electricity generation, he said. It’s been making strides in converting its engines to run on 100 percent hydrogen and is developing hydrogen generation projects in the U.S. and Europe. In a study focused on California, Wärtsilä showed that zero-carbon hydrogen, or methane generated with carbon-capture technologies, to fuel power plants is a much less expensive alternative to building the battery capacity needed to cover the final 5 percent to 10 percent of grid power needed to reach its 100 percent carbon-free energy goals. “When there are huge load peaks, cloud cover or unusual weather, these plants kick in, and allow you to build a much smaller battery storage fleet,” he said.

 

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The Green Hydrogen Revolution Is Now Underway

At-a-Glance:

While renewables are now the fastest growing energy industry, hydrogen is following closely behind in a massive gale. The 21st century will likely witness the rise of a mega-billion hydrogen fuel industry. Countries are taking initial steps to pursue green hydrogen as an energy solution and it is clearly becoming an innovative trend.  The Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) is tracking dozens of green hydrogen electrolyzer projects around the world with a theoretical combined capacity of 50 GW worth $75 billion. To learn more, read The Green Hydrogen Revolution Is Now Underway.”

Key Takeaways:

  • With the announcement of its 10-year $10.5 billion Green Hydrogen roadmap earlier this month, Spain joins a slew of other countries seeking to develop a zero-emission fuel for trucking, aviation, and shipping.
  • OPEC leader Saudi Arabia is building a green hydrogen facility,capable of producing 650 tons of green hydrogen fuel per day, in its cutting-edge futuristic city of Neom
  • Korea and Japan have both rolled out roadmaps to guide hydrogen-related investment and policy in coming years, including encouraging hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (HFVC) production. 
    • The Toyota Mirai is an HFCV unveiled in 2014 and has 10,300 worldwide sales since December 2019. 
    • Korea’s Hyundai is producing the hydrogen powered SUV Nexo.
  • China’s Hebei province approved $1.2 billion of projects for hydrogen equipment manufacturing, filling stations, fuel cells and hydrogen production, including electrolysis.
  • Perhaps the most ambitious project so far is the Asian Renewable Energy Hub based in Pilbara, Western Australia. The $16 billion initiative could see green hydrogen shipments as early as 2027.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Power-to-hydrogen is an alternate pathway to get to 100% clean energy. Hydrogen as a fuel is carbon free. However, there are costly investments involved with adding hydrogen to the mix because the infrastructure for this fuel still needs to be developed. Thermal power plants designed to burn methane typically cannot burn 100% hydrogen. Existing gas storage facilities, pipelines, compressor stations and distribution lines typically cannot handle 100% hydrogen without expensive upgrades, if not complete replacements.  Still, hydrogen is an efficient and carbon-free alternative to renewable synthetic hydrocarbons and is worth investigating. 

 

 

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