In the power sector, green hydrogen could tackle intermittency issues as renewables’ share of generation continues to grow. Converting power into hydrogen creates a chemical battery with more scope for long-term storage than utility battery storage.
“Whether storing wind energy that was generated at night for use the next day, or shifting solar power from the summer into the winter, that could happen at a pretty meaningful scale with hydrogen,” says Alex Helpenstell, Strategy Consultant at EY-Parthenon.
While any form of clean hydrogen could be integrated into the power sector, Mitsubishi has launched a US$3b project to develop three green-hydrogen-ready power plants in New York, Virginia and Ohio. Initially capable of operating on 30% hydrogen and 70% natural gas, they could eventually reach 100% green hydrogen, according to Paul Browning, President and Chief Executive Officer of Mitsubishi Power. Once online, Mitsubishi will then build underground storage facilities connected to pipelines, to enable the plants to transition to hydrogen-only over time.
“We are trying to solve the chicken-and-egg problem where investing in hydrogen is unattractive unless there are power plants to offtake that hydrogen, but no one is going to invest without the infrastructure to supply the hydrogen,” Browning explains, making a point that applies equally to any type of clean hydrogen.
“By starting out with power plants that use 30% green hydrogen we can create economies of scale, enable more renewables, and prepare for a future when we can make the infrastructure investments to fully transition from natural gas to 100% hydrogen and become part of the renewables landscape,” he adds.
Pilot projects to inject hydrogen into the natural gas grid are happening in the US, Australia, Japan and throughout Europe. This could present a significant near-term demand source for low-carbon hydrogen, of which a limited amount can be blended with natural gas before existing pipeline infrastructure needs to be upgraded or end-use applications adapted.
The amount that can be blended varies based on local regulations. Germany currently allows the highest volume blend in certain circumstances, while, in France, a group of gas infrastructure operators has suggested a blend of up to 6% hydrogen could be possible right now without major changes to pipelines and end-user boilers.
In a report on its findings in this area, the group recommended a system-wide target of 10% blended hydrogen by 2030, and 20% beyond. By 2050, the report found, injected hydrogen volumes of up to 40TWh (32% by volume) would be possible.
Reaching 100% hydrogen deployment in the gas-infrastructure sector would require large-scale conversion of end-user appliances, such as domestic boilers, and the development of safety measures for the use of hydrogen in a residential setting. However, blending even 5% would provide a significant source of demand relative to current hydrogen production, especially in the early stages of the market.