Thriving with Hydrogen: The Key to a Low Carbon Future

By Vicky Harris, Vice President Marketing on May 07, 2019
Vicky Harris
Home  / Blog  /  Thriving with Hydrogen: The Key to a Low Carbon Future

Hydrogen is poised to play a vital and growing role in the race to cut carbon emissions and ensure a more sustainable future for our planet. The clean energy wave that is transforming so many areas of energy generation and consumption needs the help of hydrogen to maintain its momentum and ensure the permanency of renewables in our economy. Today’s post, the first in a series on “Thriving with Hydrogen,” explores some of the ways the number one element is already enabling the integration and expansion of renewables. Hydrogen’s potential for this important role is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.

Big, efficient batteries that can store surplus solar and wind energy that arises when demand is lower than supply are not yet here. In fact, Michael Liebreich, the founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance who has been bullish on batteries for years, predicts that by 2030 the total volume of grid-connected batteries will be sufficient to meet the world’s power needs for just 7.5 minutes!

This mismatch between supply and demand―the big bottleneck for the full adoption of renewables―can be solved economically, efficiently and at scale with the use of hydrogen. Liebreich understands the value and role that hydrogen gas plays as an ideal storage media for large-scale energy storage, calling it “one of the most promising ways of dealing with longer-term storage, beyond the minutes, hours or days that could be met by batteries, or the limited locations in which pumped storage could work.”

Sun, wind, and hydrogen: All we need for a 100% renewable energy future.

Still Waiting for an Energy Transition

A sobering article from Axios last year opened with the declaration, “The world has never experienced an energy transition.” They point to the fact that although the share of fossil fuels in total energy production has declined, they still comprise the majority of energy (80%) and the world continues to use more of them. In what they call “the big picture,” Axios notes, “These historical changes in the energy system [adoption of renewables], however, have been a matter of addition, not transition.” They conclude that if we want to combat global warming, we need to be aware of these facts so that a real transition can happen. The article lays out, by the numbers, what this transition needs to accomplish:

“A true energy transition will need to reduce carbon emissions. By 2040, the International Energy Agency projects that, to reach the climate targets laid out in the Paris Agreement, global coal consumption would need to decline by more than half while oil consumption falls by almost 25%. Natural gas could continue to grow, though more slowly than today. Renewables would need to increase roughly tenfold from today’s levels to provide, together with nuclear, more than 25% of global energy.”

In short, an energy revolution is needed. Renewables need to transform, not simply add to, the energy mix of our society if we want to enter an era of true sustainable energy production and consumption.

Hydrogen can Help a Revolution, which Began Quietly, Accelerate Loudly

When it comes to the share of renewables in the total energy sector, or what Axios calls a matter of “addition,” we are only at the beginning of a silent revolution. After all, even the longest of journeys begin with a single step. However modest, today’s clean energy revolution can accelerate rapidly if variable renewables, like wind and solar, get the scalable storage sidekick they need to provide power 24/7, no matter the weather or time of day.

A report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) examines how hydrogen can bring about “a 100% renewable energy future.” The report explores the potential of hydrogen in several areas of the economy where it can play a pivotal role to bring about the clean energy transition as follows:

    • Hydrogen can provide the missing link in the transformation of sectors, such as aviation or refining, where electrification is not suitable to replace combustible fuel.
    • Hydrogen can support higher shares of wind and solar energy in the power sector, serving as temporary storage of renewable electricity to balance the grid and even out variable power production.
    • Hydrogen can tap high-quality renewable energy resources, such as remote desserts (via solar), since it is easier to transport than electricity and unconstrained by grid connections.
    • Hydrogen can take advantage of existing energy infrastructure, including injection into natural gas grids, reducing emissions of current infrastructure, such as gas turbines for the power sector.
    • Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) powered by hydrogen can offer consumers a low-emissions driving performance similar to conventional vehicles using internal combustion engines.

Hydrogen is Undergoing a Revolution of its Own

Over the past decade, there has been tremendous technological progress that has enabled hydrogen to prove its worth in each of the areas outlined in the IRENA report. A few weeks ago, we wrote an article that explored how a confluence of factors, including the lowering of costs and advancement of technologies, are serving to bring about the much anticipated Hydrogen Economy. The sheer number of initiatives from many of the world’s largest organizations, supported by policies from hundreds of national and local governments, are helping to break down the final barriers to realizing the full potential of the most energetic of elements.

Whether it’s a primary source of energy using new technologies, such as Hydrogen 2.0, or acting as a sidekick energy storage medium to enable the full potential of variable renewables, hydrogen is elemental to our transition to a more sustainable energy society.

 

Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.
© Copyright 2019 Joi Scientific, Inc. All rights reserved. JOI SCIENTIFIC and HYDROGEN 2.0 are trademarks of Joi Scientific, Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

 


Stay in the know.

As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.

 

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