Hydrogen based power has been identified as a possible solution to the problems of climate change.
The government has set ambitious targets for the use of hydrogen to achieve net-zero emissions, as the only by-product is water. Despite the excitement, there are only minor moves to realise its potential.
The problem? A lack of near-term and long-term economic viability and industry readiness.
The energy dilemma
Most hydrogen is held in molecules, whether this is in water or hydrocarbons. To split the molecule to obtain hydrogen, you need a significant amount of energy. Hydrogen has a high energy content by weight but a low density. Therefore, you need a lot of it to get the same amount of energy.
While hydrocarbons can be burnt directly, as in fossil fuels, this releases carbon into the atmosphere. Creating blue hydrogen requires carbon capture technologies. Creating green hydrogen requires a prohibitive amount of energy from renewable sources to access the molecule’s potential.
Standardisation and certainty
There are many ways the government could promote the increased use of hydrogen. With coordination, standardisation and investment in infrastructure, the costs would naturally decrease as the market bought in. Reducing market uncertainty would increase investment and would help to scale production to viable levels. Currently, most gaseous energy carriers via electrolysis remain small in scale, producing less than 1MW. As the government is looking at a target of 10GW of green hydrogen production by 2035, it is clear there is a long way to go. However, BP plans to provide 1GW of blue hydrogen in a Teeside plant, which is 20% of the government’s 2030 target of 5GW of hydrogen-based energy.
More effective intervention by the government will be a consequence of efforts to collect and analyse data. People are looking for evidence that hydrogen is a cost-effective route to energy provision, and organisations such as McKinsey are doing much to gather these data points. From this research, requiring accurate measurement, much can be done to build the case for hydrogen-based energy.
The economics of hydrogen
The significant drawback of power to gas to power is the round-trip efficiency of this approach. The loss is at around 45%, pushing the overall costs up in different proportions along the production line. From drawing the energy from renewables to the underground storage of the hydrogen to the cost of generating power, at each stage, efficiency has to be high to yield results that allow this source of energy to be a feasible alternative. However, with the right technology, it is possible for hydrogen turbines to rival natural gas turbines by 2030.
In short, hydrogen production is cost-prohibitive, and if green or blue hydrogen is ever going to be a realistic source of energy, accurate flow measurement is required. With the data, standards can be set, and market certainty can be established, but this will take intervention at a government level.