The economic opportunities connected with hydrogen production – the proposed future hydrogen economy – have undergone significant scrutiny in recent years. Now, a new strategy from the Australian government sets out hydrogen’s future in the country. Solving problems with seasonal grid intermittencies is one of many benefits outlined in the report.
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The National Hydrogen Roadmap
A considerable amount of work is currently being undertaken to understand and quantify the economic opportunities available from significant investment in burgeoning hydrogen industries, both globally and domestically.
CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), an Australian government agency responsible for scientific research, has contributed to this work with its National Hydrogen Roadmap for Australia.
The document is a blueprint for developing a robust hydrogen industry in Australia, at scale and within ten years. The strategy document focuses on how the Australian industry can realize the opportunities associated with establishing hydrogen in the country.
The primary objective of the document’s authors was to provide a clear plan for how an Australian hydrogen industry could develop over the course of the next decade. It takes into account the activity already underway in the burgeoning domestic industry, and identifies a series of investment opportunities for different stakeholder groups (government, research, industry).
The plan sets out a coordinated and controlled scaling process that will see the industry develop healthily over the next ten years.
Why Focus on Hydrogen?
Hydrogen gas is a highly versatile energy carrier and industrial feedstock. It is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, and so emits no greenhouse gases in either manufacture or consumption.
Splitting water up is an incredibly energy-intensive process, however, and hydrogen manufacture using conventional fossil fuels may lead to more carbon emissions per kilowatt-hour of energy produced than standard diesel or gas. Coupling hydrogen production with renewable energy generation such as solar or wind solves this problem.
Hydrogen has mostly been used for industrial processes to date (for example as shipping fuel and manufacturing feedstock), but it has potential for applications in many more activities and sectors. Spreading hydrogen’s adoption in these sectors is a key rationale for CSIRO’s recommendations, which also recognize the importance of ensuring hydrogen production is as clean as possible to reap the environmental benefits it offers.
Hydrogen for Stabilizing Electric Grids
Hydrogen can be used to increase electricity grid stability (somewhat) as well as improve grid reliability (significantly). Grid stability is enabled by storage capacity for seconds or hours and deals with surging loads and spiking demand.
Grid-connected electrolyzers provide the grid with a flexible energy load that can be ramped up and down to maintain stability for the network, so hydrogen is unlikely to be utilized for grid stability in the near future. Hydrogen would have to be produced for less than $2/kg to offer better value than batteries, pumped hydropower, and gas turbines for grid stability.
Grid reliability is enabled by energy storage over months and seasons, ensuring a consistent supply of power around the year (especially when coupled with seasonal renewable energy generation such as solar and wind). Renewable energy is expected to contribute more energy to the Australian electric grid in the coming years, so grid reliability will become an increasingly important factor.
Along with gas turbines, hydrogen presents one of the only technological solutions that can overcome the challenges of seasonal grid intermittency. There is currently an initial cost penalty in hydrogen systems, although this may be offset in the short term by reduced social and environmental costs (and carbon credits) enabled using cleaner hydrogen.
Coupling electric grid infrastructure with on-site renewable energy generation and on-site hydrogen production could bring significant savings to electric grids, as well as future-proofing them with a scalable seasonal energy storage system.
References and Further Reading
CSIRO (2018) National Hydrogen Roadmap. [Online] Available at: https://www.csiro.au/en/work-with-us/services/consultancy-strategic-advice-services/csiro-futures/futures-reports/hydrogen-roadmap