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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The Texas Polar Vortex Resurrects the Decarbonized Grid’s Fuel Diversity Question

At-a-Glance:

This article is not about which generating technologies caused the blackouts experienced in Texas and states across the Midwest this week. However, these events can get us thinking about where the industry goes from here. First, the U.S. natural-gas supply network was stressed by record demand and prices. The record-high gas demand would have been even higher without the rolling blackouts that were imposed because more homes with central heat would have run either gas-fired heaters or electric heat pumps, which would have been powered mostly by coal- or gas-fired generators if those weren’t impacted by outages. To learn more, read The Texas Polar Vortex Resurrects the Decarbonized Grid’s Fuel Diversity Question.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The nine days between February 9 – 17 seem to highlight a fuel-diversity dilemma for U.S. decarbonization targets and policies. Coal and natural gas comprised 65% of the power generation mix, 30% and 35% respectively, while utility-scale wind and solar only provided 6%.
    • Many utility integrated resource plans seek to quickly replace coal plants with new, or existing but underutilized, natural-gas plants as “bridge fuel,” while adding large amounts of wind and solar over the next five to 20 years.
  • An increase in natural-gas usage during a repeat polar vortex event would likely lead to more grid reliability problems. There are two options to prevent this:
    • Expand U.S. natural gas supply/network to support even higher send-out for an extended cold snap.
    • Build enough renewable energy sources to offset the loss of coal generation and prevent increased natural gas demand during an extended cold snap.
  • Wood Mackenzie’s latest Long-Term Outlook forecasts the U.S. adding over 1,300 GW of new combined wind and solar capacity by 2050 to reach 85% decarbonization, plus over 400 GW of battery storage.
    • The system would still require some backup natural-gas generation for periods of low renewable energy output.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Power systems won’t decarbonize overnight. The pathway toward a 100% renewable power system will be a phased transformation, leveraging different mixes of technologies and fuels at different steps along the path. Power-to-gas technology is one approach that can ease the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, while providing a long-term energy storage solution that ensures a reliable and secure supply of electricity during periods of extreme weather.

 

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Texas Power Crisis Moves Into Fourth Day With Millions in Dark

At-a-Glance:

Economic fallout from the extreme winter weather that caused widespread blackouts is continuing to have a ripple effect even as power is restored. “The current energy crisis is much bigger than most people realize. This is a global crisis,” Paul Sankey, an oil analyst at Sankey Research, wrote in a note. “The largest energy outage in U.S. history.” To learn more, read Texas Power Crisis Moves Into Fourth Day With Millions in Dark.” Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

  • While Texas’s grid operator was able to restore power to 1.8 million homes by Wednesday February 17, 1.2 million homes remained without electricity.
  • Generation capacity on the grid reached 52 gigawatts Wednesday evening, the highest level since Monday morning. Electricity load climbed to 49 gigawatts, indicating that power had been restored to some customers.
  • As of February 17, 43 gigawatts of the state’s generation capacity remained offline, including 26.5 gigawatts of thermal generation that shut due to frozen instruments, limited gas supplies, and low gas pressure.
  • Frozen turbines and icy solar panels shut down nearly 17 gigawatts of renewable energy.
  • Gas production has plummeted to the lowest level since 2017.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The recent Texas power crisis impacted millions of people in Texas and neighboring states. One reason these blackouts occurred is that many power plants are not designed to handle extreme ambient temperatures. Limited natural gas supply and low gas pressure also posed a challenge for power plants across the state. Winterizing gas supply and power plants is a must to avoid similar situations in the future. Although it is more expensive to winterize the gas supply and power plants, this is required to ensure reliability when extreme weather occurs.

 

 

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Texas Storms, California Heat Waves and ‘Vulnerable’ Utilities

At-a-Glance:

In California, wildfires and heat waves in recent years forced utilities to shut off power to millions of homes and businesses. Now, Texas is learning that deadly winter storms and intense cold can do the same. To learn more, read Texas Storms, California Heat Waves and ‘Vulnerable’ Utilities.” Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

  • Blackouts in Texas and California have revealed that power plants can be strained and knocked offline by the kind of extreme cold and hot weather that climate scientists have said will become more common as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere.
  • The electricity industry typically looks at average annual temperatures rather than seasonal ones. Changing the distribution of power sources based on the seasonal temperatures could help avoid electricity shortages.
  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas could take a cue from states in colder climates and winterize its power plants and other equipment to prevent future weather-related power failures.
  • That Texas and California have been hardest hit makes clear that simplistic ideological explanations are often wrong. Texas, for example, has relied on market forces to balance its electric grid.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The impacts of climate change and extreme weather are not limited to Texas and California. All states can take steps to ensure their power and natural gas systems can handle the full range of temperatures that climate analysts forecast; winterization is just one example. States should also explore long-term energy storage solutions, such as thermal generation.

 

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3 graphs that shed light on the ERCOT power crisis

At-a-Glance:

As work continued to restore electric power across the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) region, data firm Lium released a series of graphs that offer early insight into the state’s grid performance in the days before the blackouts and immediately after. To learn more, read 3 graphs that shed light on the ERCOT power crisis.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Wind generation progressively slowed and ended up down around 8 GW compared with the prior week.
  • Natural gas generation was suffering shortfalls as well, with a “big crash” in early hours of Monday February 15.
  • Lium concluded that the ERCOT shortfall could have been met had natural gas, coal, and nuclear all been operating at peak summer levels (+9 GW) and if wind were operating at its typical February rate (+ 8 GW).

Path to 100% Perspective:

The recent Texas blackouts demonstrate the importance of having reliable sources of power in the event of extreme weather and natural disasters. Liquid fuels can be stored in large quantities at power plant sites for occasions when gas pressure is too low. In the future, these back-up fuels can be carbon-neutral methanol or ammonia, offering long-term, carbon-free, on-site energy storage. Excess electricity from periods of oversupply of solar and wind energy can be used to produce such renewable fuels locally in Texas.

 

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CEOs outline 3 trends hitting electricity

At-a-Glance:

Major power companies held earnings calls in recent weeks to share their focus on issues such as expanding renewables and the role of hydrogen under a national push for 100 percent clean electricity. Additionally, CEO’s discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to delay solar projects and defer grid maintenance. To learn more, read “CEOs outline 3 trends hitting electricity.” Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

Here are the issues that major electric companies are focused on as 2020 winds down:

  • One effect of the coronavirus pandemic may impact renewable energy development. NRG Energy Inc. CEO Mauricio Gutierrez said a chunk of the pending purchased power in Texas may be delayed six to eight months because of supply chain and financing issues related to the virus.
  • CenterPoint Energy Inc. CEO David Lesar said the company will work on renewable natural gas and hydrogen renewables in Minnesota plus possible new transmission infrastructure to connect to renewable sources in Texas.
  • CEO John Ketchum of NextEra Energy Resources LLC said hydrogen will come into play if federal policy accelerates a zero-carbon goal by 2035.
  • Vistra Corp CEO Curt Morgan said Vistra has “a portfolio of highly efficient, low-emitting natural gas assets that can provide reliable, dispatchable power and complement the intermittent nature of renewable resources.” He explained a diverse portfolio enables renewable products that can ensure reliability and an affordable price. “Every reputable and objective study on the changing power generation landscape has natural gas playing a significant role for several years to come, especially as we electrify the economy,” Morgan said.

Path to 100% Perspective:

These are exciting times as the renewable energy future is a focus for so many organizations and governments around the world. Emerging technologies are moving closer to reality, which makes ambitious energy goals more realistic and the path to 100 percent renewable energy is now within reach. The big challenge facing power generators around 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. Renewable carbon neutral fuels such as hydrogen and synthetic methane are being explored as solutions for sustainable and reliable power systems. Curtailed renewable electricity is used in the process with water to produce Hydrogen, and carbon is captured from air to produce synthetic methane with hydrogen. These fuels are used in flexible power plants to provide a long term energy storage for seasonal and weather management needs.

 

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Green Hydrogen in Natural Gas Pipelines: Decarbonization Solution or Pipe Dream?

At-a-Glance:

Can carbon-free hydrogen augment, or even replace, the fossil natural gas running through pipelines to fuel furnaces, boilers, stoves and other building applications today? Or will the effort get bogged down in challenges related to pipeline safety and upgrade costs, loss of energy density, the long-term cost discrepancies compared to electrifying natural-gas-fired heat and appliances in buildings, or the pressure to direct green hydrogen to hard-to-decarbonize sectors? Natural-gas utilities around the world are seeking real-world answers to these kinds of questions. To learn more, read “Green Hydrogen in Natural Gas Pipelines: Decarbonization Solution or Pipe Dream?”

Key Takeaways:

  • In the U.S., the HyBlend project involving NREL and five other DOE labs intends to examine the long-term effects of hydrogen at different blends on different pipeline materials and create publicly available models for industry use. This kind of research will help determine how much it will cost to upgrade existing pipeline networks to make the shift.
  • “Hydrogen also burns very differently than methane”, said Jussi Heikkinen, the Americas Director of Growth and Development for Wärtsilä Energy and Path to 100% community expert, which is investing in engines that can run on 100 percent hydrogen. “It burns almost as an explosion. It’s a blast, and then it’s done. That’s good for efficient conversion of gas into heat, but it also brings safety and engineering challenges,” he said.
  • Making green hydrogen using carbon-free electricity also costs four to six times more than making hydrogen from fossil fuels. Those costs are expected to fall with advances in electrolysis efficiency, lower costs of renewable energy to power them, and economies of scale from the industrial hubs being built around the world.

Path to 100% Perspective:

When utilities go beyond 25 percent hydrogen in the fuel, in most places in the world, they are no longer able to use the same equipment. Electronics, for example, must be explosion-proof. There should be no sparks because hydrogen ignites with almost any air-to-fuel ratio.

Hydrogen is also about three times less energy-dense than methane. That means that as the ratio of hydrogen rises, the volume of energy being delivered through the same pipelines decreases.

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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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