A few reflections from the #PCHET 2020 Hydrogen Conference.
It’s no longer just a possibility, it’s now inevitable. Europe has decided that hydrogen will serve as the main element of European economy in the context of storing and processing electricity. When we discuss offshore wind, we are supposed to be talking about hydrogen. And vice versa. “Green” hydrogen is supposed to lead the transformations.
The objectives set by the European Union, i.e. raising the installed power in offshore wind farms from the current 22 GW to 111 GW in 2030 (5 times as much) and 450 GW in 2050 (5 times as much once again) (source: WindEurope, 11 September 2020) have created a situation where the EU is currently establishing challenges in scope of hydrogen production – 1 million tonnes of “green” hydrogen in 2024 (in just 3 years) and 10 million tonnes of “green” hydrogen in 2030 (this is how much “grey” hydrogen is currently being consumed by all European countries).
The first one will not be a problem, because the projects of Shell, BP, Repsol, or OMV (data from April of 2020) indicate that this is feasible. The initial installations of electrolysers powered with “green” energy (not just from wind but from water as well) will be released for use in 2022. With consideration of the range of Green Deal Call projects of 22 September 2020, which cover funding for 100 MW electrolyser battery projects, I am convinced that the 10 million tonnes of “green” hydrogen in 2030 will be achieved as well.
But what is our place in these plans and intentions?
Unfortunately, our hydrogen projects have neither the scale nor the momentum of those submitted by German, Dutch, Portuguese, or Slovenian companies. The planned projects obviously include the ZE PAK project covering the 10 MW electrolyser installation, but will the planned RES be enough to power these electrolysers? And what is the ready market? Still, such projects are worth rooting for.
The remaining projects of our “champions” are based on natural gas – steam reforming with pre-treatment to the parameters of five nines (hydrogen purity class, i.e. 99.999%). Unfortunately, as I look at the activity of EU, I am afraid that production of hydrogen from steam reforming will be closely connected to CCS, the capture and storage of CO2. In this case, the production profitability will become much less attractive. In my opinion, hydrogen from natural gas does not have a long future ahead of it. The same goes for biogas, but this is a different matter, which I will discuss in the future.
As I read the comments of the #PCHET 2020 audience, I realise how much we still have to do in scope of hydrogen awareness – economics, safety, application – and how few of us realise that certain processes are inevitable and that this will be our reality whether we like it or not.
Another important matter – over the past 30 years, we were unable to resolve the matter of coal as the main source of energy in our country. Right now, most people are starting to realise the problem we will be dealing with for many years to come and the ensuing consequences. There are opinions that natural gas will be a transitional fuel. Even though I am a great supporter of natural gas, especially LNG, I’m afraid that it will soon be perceived in the same way as coal is right now, which means that it is not the fuel of the future. We have little time to make the right decisions in scope of renewable energy sources and nuclear energy (their strategic role and share in the energy mix). If we make the wrong ones, the future generations will be cursing us, because their fate will be unenviable. We are currently dealing with a coal problem; their problem may stem from the fact that they have expensive energy from offshore wind farms and expensive “green” hydrogen, which will prevent the Polish economy of the future from being competitive. Unfortunately, this may all come to pass if we don’t make bold decisions with consideration of the future.
Is there a “light in the tunnel”?
I believe that there is. Everyone is currently having a problem with hydrogen in scope of its distribution. Due to the low density of hydrogen, its distribution is very difficult. Hydrogen expansion will not be possible until it is distributed in pipelines on a grand scale. And attention: Ukraine and South African countries have already received offers to manufacture hydrogen for Europe and deliver it in hydrogen pipelines. The fact that Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, the Secretary General Hydrogen Europe, discussed the possibility of Russians transporting hydrogen to Europe through Nord Stream II during our conference was no coincidence. Jorgo talked about hydrogen from pyrolysis. We can always debate whether this makes sense or not, but if someone so influential in matters associated with hydrogen publicly says things like that, I think we should take it seriously.
But where is the “light”? We can see it in dispersed hydrogen production from dispersed renewable energy sources. Me could make this our specialisation, which we could contribute to Europe. But nothing is free, of course. Such a project could be driven by the solutions adopted by the German Hydrogen Organisation, i.e. exemption from charges in scope of transfer of electrical energy used in hydrogen production in electrolysers, or by a different approach to energy balancing and potential regional balancing (e.g. not only in scope of activity of the distribution system operator, but also in scope of the activity of the energy cluster). This is also inevitable, the only question is, when will we finally realise it in Poland? Dispersed hydrogen production is associated with management of local surplus production (storage) of electrical energy – instead of “forcing” energy into the system, we would be manufacturing hydrogen. And an application appears in order to direct the manufactured hydrogen for purposes of transport. Our conference covered a project called HGaas – “Hydrogen is always on the way”. This is a developmental project open for joining. This is not just a paper project, as the work on the first location in Poland is already under way, which was also announced during our conference. To be continued.