We say Yes to hydrogen for:
- Decarbonising heavy industry
Heavy industry requires large amounts of energy, and whilst some industries could be electrified at best this would place significant additional demands on electricity generation and electricity grids, and in many cases is simply not practical or possible. The leading candidate for using hydrogen is the refinement of iron ore into iron for the steel industry, but others including the ceramics and chemicals industries all have a high potential for conversion to hydrogen.
- Grid-level energy storage
There is an easy case to be made for using ‘excess output’ from windfarms and other large-scale renewables in remote locations to produce green hydrogen as a form of energy storage. Such sites can also be located in close proximity to ports, where hydrogen-powered shipping could provide a potentially lucrative local market. More localised use of hydrogen as an energy store, however, is far less favourable as the need for and cost of the necessary infrastructure means batteries offer lower costs and greater flexibility
Ships do not suffer from the same constraints of the weight and volume of their power sources that apply to other forms of transport, and the co-location of sources of hydrogen with ports means that hydrogen is a more favourable solution than electrification and batteries. In a one hundred percent renewable future it is highly likely that hydrogen will power the vast majority of ships.
We say Maybe hydrogen for:
- Heavy freight
Whilst our society continues to rely on large volumes of freight being hauled by road, hydrogen fuel cells provide a more practical alternative to electric batteries for long distance heavy freight, and particularly where vehicles can be refuelled at ports and other major hubs, with quicker turnaround times than are currently possible for large electric vehicles. The ‘last mile’ distribution of goods from these hubs can then be fulfilled by electric or bioenergy-powered vehicles.
- Public transport
Trains and buses may require a hybrid technology approach, with hydrogen-powered vehicles probably becoming the preferable option for long-distance routes and larger vehicles. Decarbonising aviation poses significant problems regardless of the choice of energy source, with hydrogen-powered aircraft facing the challenges of volume of fuel needing to be stored and doing so safely, and electric aircraft facing the challenge of reducing the weight of batteries.In the immediate future we may have to accept that introducing limitations on air travel is inevitable if we are to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions until both hydrogen and electric battery technology options improve to the point where either one of these technologies or a hybrid approach emerges as a clear winner.
We say No to hydrogen for:
- Private transport
The development and deployment of electric cars and light commercial vehicles is now well underway, and these offer clear advantages over hydrogen powered vehicles. With most journeys by private transport being short and charging times for small vehicles continuing to fall there is simply no benefit in investing in the extensive refuelling infrastructure (and accepting the energy efficiency losses) necessary for adopting hydrogen for these purposes.
- Heating homes and buildings
Hydrogen is the lightest element, the smallest atomic size, and has a very low energy density, meaning it is highly inefficient as a source of heat (where alternatives are practical) and can easily escape from existing infrastructure. As a rule of thumb, existing gas networks can cope with mixes of up to 30% hydrogen without requiring replacement, which would come at significant costs in terms of both the necessary investment and the time needed to do so. Ultimately, all existing gas boilers will need to be replaced with alternative heating systems. A combination of strategies including maximising energy efficiency and the installation of heat pumps, solar thermal and photovoltaic panels, and non-fossil-fuelled district heating systems would be a major national priority in the short and medium term.
- All applications associated with the fossil fuel and nuclear industries
It goes without saying that we strongly oppose the promise of the ‘hydrogen economy’ to justify the building of, or extending the lifetimes of, fossil fuel and nuclear generation plants to produce ‘blue’ hydrogen from electrolysis, and the continued extraction of fossil gas to produce ‘grey’ hydrogen by using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to capture and store the waste carbon dioxide.
100% Renewable UK notes that there is a surprisingly high level of consensus amongst experts on the roles hydrogen should, could, and should not play as part of the transition to a decarbonised society. This becomes even more apparent when the views of those with substantial vested interests – namely the fossil fuel and nuclear industries and their lobbyists – are filtered out.
Whilst we accept that achieving a unanimous agreement amongst a global community of energy experts informed by their own professional and academic backgrounds and their understanding of their own national and regional perspectives is unlikely, the consensus is such that it is possible to determine a broad hierarchy of uses for hydrogen commensurate with achieving the goal of a one hundred percent renewable energy future.
Such a future can, and must, include the complete elimination of the use of fossil fuels and nuclear power, and in doing so negate the need for carbon capture and storage (CCS). Whilst we accept there may be a case for the development and deployment of biologically-enabled carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to mitigate the release of carbon dioxide from the production and use of biofuels, we are of the view that the deployment of CCS and the extraction of hydrogen from fossil fuels primarily serves to prolong the use of fossil fuels, and the profits the industry generates, long beyond the limited timeframe left to avert catastrophic climate change.
As an organisation without a particular axe to grind, 100% Renewable UK aims to help separate the hydrogen wheat from the chaff. Although hydrogen already features prominently on our website (see articles here), we don’t have all the answers but want to encourage constructive debate. We support the development of genuinely green hydrogen (from renewable sources) but will expose greenwash relating to other types of hydrogen.
This position statement is the second draft for an intentionally simple hydrogen position statement shown above was provided by 100% Renewable UK associate Keith Baker. The statement is intended as a basis for further discussion, either via the blog comment facility or our e-group. We are now inviting final comments from similarly non-aligned experts on energy before issuing a call for supporting signatories and formally publishing the final draft.
It is worth noting the similarity of our hydrogen position statement with considerations by the European association of cities in energy transition (Energy Cities) under the heading “Where should green hydrogen fit in your city? A short guide to where we think hydrogen can make the biggest impact in a city’s energy transition” – see here.