The global energy market is more volatile and uncertain than ever. Combined with the challenges surrounding climate change and the growing heat of home energy storage, there is a clear need for a safe, sustainable and affordable energy supply to meet future energy demands. The discussion of hydrogen energy has grown in recent years, but does it really have potential?
1. Classification of hydrogen
Hydrogen can be produced in a number of ways, each classified by a different "color". Among the many "colors" most commonly discussed are green hydrogen, blue hydrogen, grey hydrogen and brown hydrogen. Green hydrogen is the most sustainable and is produced by electrolysis driven by electricity from renewable sources. Green hydrogen differs from blue hydrogen, which is made from natural gas, and whose carbon emissions need to be captured, stored or reused. The production of single non-captured carbon emissions through fossil fuels is known as grey hydrogen.
Brown hydrogen is produced by coal gasification, which is the lowest cost to manufacture, but also has carbon emissions. Almost 80 percent of hydrogen is currently produced through carbon-intensive routes such as coal gasification and hydrogen production from fossil fuels. As the demand for hydrogen has increased in recent years, more efforts are needed to reduce emissions associated with hydrogen production. The hydrogen energy strategies of governments around the world have focused on low-carbon hydrogen production technologies.
2. How does hydrogen energy storage work?
Hydrogen produced by electrolysis powered by renewable energy sources such as wind or solar energy is green hydrogen. Alkali electrolysis and water electrolysis are the two most common routes for hydrogen production by electrolysis. The hydrogen produced by the process can be stored and converted into electricity when needed. Green hydrogen has huge energy storage potential, it can be burned when needed without emitting any CO2 or used directly in fuel cells.
The surplus renewable electricity generated during off-peak periods can power the electrolysis plant to produce hydrogen. Then, when demand peaks, this hydrogen can act as a repository of carbon-free energy and provide balancing power to the grid. Relevant experts shared that this is a technology that can carry out seasonal energy storage. When you're short on renewable energy in summer and winter, you can take advantage of the excess power generation that might be produced in spring and fall.
3. Current status of hydrogen energy storage
Hydrogen energy storage, the principle is simple, but the process from electricity to hydrogen to electricity is less efficient and more expensive than other energy storage technologies. However, it still receives great attention due to its high energy storage capacity. Compared to other energy storage technologies, storing hydrogen is a long term energy storage technology that can be stored for months. Lithium ion batteries, by contrast, are short duration energy storage technology over a period of hours. At present, many countries in the world are actively developing new energy.
As an important part of new energy, hydrogen energy is the key development direction of each new energy country. As a typical big country in the development of hydrogen energy, Germany has played a crucial role in the development of hydrogen energy in the world. According to official data from Germany in 2020, its green hydrogen production accounts for about 20% of the global total. The development of the hydrogen energy industry in Germany has played a symbolic and leading role in the construction of the world hydrogen energy industry. Organizations such as German utility Uniper are interested in investing in the technology, despite the higher cost than natural gas. Uniper hopes to use the renewable electricity produced every day to produce hydrogen for underground storage.
The hydrogen can then be traded, sold to industrial users, or used to generate electricity to feed back into the grid. Germany, with the H2Global initiative, also plays an important role in stimulating a global market for green hydrogen. The specially created organization buys green hydrogen at the lowest possible price on the world market and then sells it at the highest bidder in Europe. The German government made 900 million euros available for this initiative. But the market for green hydrogen is certainly not limited to Europe. The demand for this sustainable energy carrier is growing all over the world. According to TMR, it is mainly the demand from the chemical industry and the steel industry that is driving the market for green hydrogen.
NextEra is the largest U.S. utility by market value and a significant investor in hydrogen storage technology, with 50 potential green hydrogen projects in the pipeline. Industry professionals say hydrogen is a real long term solution. While some companies and organizations are making progress, the International Energy Agency, the IEA, believes that there are still several challenges to the widespread use of green hydrogen. High production costs, slow infrastructure development for hydrogen energy, and regulatory constraints on developing a clean hydrogen industry are barriers to widespread green hydrogen adoption.
4. Is green hydrogen the future of energy storage?
As renewable energy plays an increasingly prominent role in the energy mix, long term energy storage has become the focus. Turbulent energy markets have made it more important than ever to ensure thoughtful and sustainable decisions are made to avoid catastrophic climate change. Hydrogen, as identified by the IEA, has enormous potential and is the primary option for long-term energy storage in the future. Many proponents also believe that hydrogen is the answer to enabling a circular economy.
In order to truly harness and utilize green hydrogen energy storage solutions in the future, the barriers to widespread adoption of clean hydrogen should first be addressed. While hydrogen is currently gaining increasing support in the political and business worlds, it is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done before green hydrogen can be produced and adopted on a large scale. To achieve this goal, various relevant industry leaders and policy makers need to develop a coordinated and comprehensive strategy to scale the technology and reduce production costs for economical, safe and large-scale production of green hydrogen.