Renewable Hydrogen: A New Market for Wind Power
Renewable Hydrogen: A New Market for Wind Power
by Denis Thomas, Belgium (EUREC 2004/05)
Energy systems across the globe are undergoing a fundamental transformation to decrease greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), increase air quality and decrease dependency on oil, coal and gas. These objectives were confirmed with the adoption of the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit the global temperature increase to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it even further to 1.5 degrees.
To reach these objectives, governments around the globe have developed strategies to decarbonise their respective power, gas, transport and industry sectors.
To decarbonize power generation, most governments rely on a combination of renewables, mainly wind and solar power, which have demonstrated a significant and fast cost reduction. While wind and solar are the cheapest sources of clean power, integrating them into the power grid is challenging as their supply is not consistent. Therefore, the need for grid flexibility (demand side management and backup power) and energy storage solutions is rapidly growing.
To decarbonize the gas sector, several strategies are being followed based on the reduction of gas consumption and the substitution of natural gas with green gases. The first priority is usually put on energy efficiency: decreasing the energy needs for heating and cooling (i.e. better insulation of buildings). There is also a clear trend to electrify the heating sector (i.e. heat pumps) and to use biomass to generate heat (i.e. pellets), decreasing the need for gas. For all other instances of gas consumption, governments are promoting the use of green gases such as biomethane (from biogas), synthetic natural gas and hydrogen.
Transport applications are numerous – road (cars, vans, trucks, buses and coaches), rail (passenger and freight), maritime (ferries, barges, ships) and air (airplanes) – and require adequate decarbonisation strategies. Most policies have focussed on biofuels (biodiesel and bioethanol), however the environmental performance and sustainability of these fuels has been heavily criticized over the past years. As air quality has become a major challenge in suburban cities and densely populated areas, transportation has been pointed out as the main contributor to GHGs. Major cities are establishing zero or low emission zones and have announced a ban on the use of diesel cars in the next decade. Under these circumstances, it is clear that a significant part of transport applications will need to be electrified through hydrogen and battery electric vehicles.
The sources of GHG in industry are abundant but typically linked with the need for power, heat and industry feedstock. The main challenge is to decarbonise industrial feedstock, which generally relies on fossils fuels to produce chemicals containing mostly carbon, oxygen and hydrogen molecules. Industry is looking at ways to capture carbon directly from the air, through biological sources or via carbon capture technologies in industrial processes, as well as ways to produce hydrogen other than from natural gas (emitting on average 10 tons of CO2 for each ton of hydrogen produced).
Driven by the falling prices of wind and solar power, electrification appears repeatedly in all government strategies to decarbonise power, gas, transport and industry. Massive electrification of both power generation and consumption will require reinforced power grids, more flexibility and smart grids, energy storage and backup power solutions.
Renewable hydrogen: the missing link
Water electrolysers are devices that use electrical power to split water (H2O) into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2). Electrolysers are capable of modulating their electrical energy input very rapidly in less than 1 second over the total power range, making them a very attractive solution to balance the fluctuations of wind power and to store large quantities of renewable energy in the form of hydrogen (as a gas).
Using wind power to make renewable hydrogen: an immense potential
If renewable power (i.e. wind) is used in an electrolyser, the environmental footprint of generating hydrogen is extremely low. Substituting hydrogen produced from natural gas to renewable hydrogen can have a significant impact in reducing GHGs. A recent study from CEFIC and Dechema looking at scenarios to decarbonise the chemical industry, has estimated that the chemical and fuel industry in Europe would require 500 to 3.000 TWh of carbon free electricity by 2030 and up to 12.000 TWh by 2050. In comparison, only 300 TWh of electricity was produced by wind in Europe in 2016.
Electrolyser technology status
Water electrolysis technology has been used in industry for several decades. Over the last 10 years, the technology has evolved quite rapidly with devices that are now very dynamic, in the MW scale range, cost efficient and easily integrated into wind parks. Hydrogenics, a global hydrogen technology company, has 70 years of experience in designing, manufacturing and installing electrolysers, with over 500 units delivered worldwide and a growing number of reference sites in combination with wind power.
A fast growing market with game changing potential
It seems quite clear now that hydrogen technology, in combination with renewable power such as wind, will be at the core of our new decarbonised energy system. Whether it’s for transportation, green gas, fuel production or energy storage, major companies around the world are strategically transitioning to renewable hydrogen to help reduce their carbon footprint.
Enabling the transition to renewable hydrogen is definitely a new opportunity for the wind energy sector.
Author: Denis THOMAS, EU Regulatory Affairs & Business Development Manager for Renewable Hydrogen, Hydrogenics, , +32 479 909 129, www.hydrogenics.com
Video link: https://youtu.be/UJXhX4dLMtA