By Paul Homewood

h/t Ian Magness

Surprise, surprise!! Harrabin trumpets Greenpeace’s agenda (just for a change!)

Environmentalists are warning the government to ignore what they call “hype” over the use of hydrogen to provide heat.

New natural gas boilers will be phased out next decade because their emissions add to climate change.

Oil and gas firms are pushing for so-called “blue” hydrogen to be used to provide heat instead.

But environmentalists say electric heat pumps are a much better option for most homes.

In a letter to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng on Friday, groups including climate think tank E3G, WWF, and Greenpeace urged the government to drop funding for “blue” hydrogen.

They said that it appears to be environmentally-benign, but really it’s not.

What is blue hydrogen and why is it being promoted?

Most homes are heated by gas, and the domestic gas market is worth £28bn a year.

The push to use hydrogen as a substitute comes from the oil and gas giants who supply the fuel; the firms that make the boilers; and gas network operator Cadent.

Most investment so far is going into “blue” hydrogen, produced by splitting natural gas at high temperatures.

This process does produce carbon emissions, but these can be captured by a chemical solvent and forced into underground rocks using carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The Hydrogen Taskforce, an industry body, wants hydrogen blended into the existing gas network to reduce emissions overall. And it wants all boilers to be made to be “hydrogen-ready”.

If blue hydrogen involves capturing CO2, what’s the problem?

“Blue” hydrogen is much better for the climate than natural gas – but green groups writing to the government say it’s incompatible with a zero-carbon Britain.

That’s because fracking for the natural gas to produce hydrogen creates leaks of methane – a potent planet-heating gas.

Emissions are also created in the exploration for gas and its transport.

What’s more, many environmentalists don’t trust the carbon capture technology essential for blue hydrogen because it’s been touted for decades as a planetary saviour, but is still not locking up carbon dioxide at scale.

They ask why consumers should face the extra cost of hydrogen-ready boilers when the advisory Climate Change Committee projects that only 11% of homes will eventually run on hydrogen.

This minority of hydrogen-heated homes is expected to be in the north east of the UK, to capitalise on the local wind energy industry producing “green” hydrogen.

So, what’s the future role for “green” hydrogen?

“Green” hydrogen is an environmentalist’s dream – using surplus electricity produced on stormy nights by wind farms to liberate hydrogen from water using electrolysis.

It’s a way of storing energy.

This “green” hydrogen is expensive and the process is inefficient – but it does produce genuinely clean hydrogen, and industry experts agree that there’s huge scope for cost reductions from innovation.

Today’s letter argues that any precious “green” hydrogen should be used to fuel industrial processes needing huge amounts of heat, not to heat homes.

In other words:

Blue Hydrogen = Fossil Fuels = BAD

Green Hydrogen =  Windmills = GOOD

In fact, some of us have been pointing out for years the absurdity of blue hydrogen, which is extremely costly, wastes energy and only partially reduces emissions of carbon dioxide, even if CCS turns out to be a success. It is insane to take natural gas, put it through an extremely costly process which involves wasting much of the gas, then spend more money taking some of the carbon dioxide out – all so that you can use it instead of gas.

But the problem is that green hydrogen is even more costly and impractical. Harrabin’s idea is that you can use surplus wind power. However, there is never any “surplus”, as all wind power is sent to the grid, even on “stormy nights”. The only exception is the handful of occasions when wind power is constrained, usually because of transmission bottlenecks. In short, green hydrogen can never be more than a Mickey Mouse operation, even if thousands of wind turbines were built for electrolysis use and nothing else.

But what about these heat pumps, which Harrabin wants to promote? Has nobody told him that the electricity grid simply cannot cope with the peak demand for heating in winter, which is currently supplied by natural gas? That is why the Committee on Climate Change recommends the roll out of hybrid heat pumps, which use hydrogen as a top up in winter. Or maybe he’d rather we all freeze?

Instead of touting Greenpeace’s letter, maybe Harrabin should have covered this report, written by energy experts:

Hydrogen, and electrofuels (e-fuels) produced with hydrogen are currently raising high expectations as a form of energy that could pervade all sectors, including mobility and heating. However, they will likely not be able to fully decarbonize the global economy, due to lack of capacity and too-high prices.

This conclusion was drawn in research conducted by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in Germany, and the Paul Scherrer Institute, in Switzerland, in which they stated that the use of hydrogen-based fuels should be prioritized in sectors that are difficult to electrify, such as long-distance aviation, feedstocks in chemical production, steel production and high-temperature industrial processes.

The scientists cite short-term scarcity and long-term uncertainty as a major obstacle for hydrogen to reach sectors that are easier to electrify, such as transport and heating, although hydrogen fuels will probably not be completely excluded from applications of this kind. “There will likely be small-scale niche applications and also regional-specific responses to this question,” researcher Falko Ueckerdt told pv magazine.

“If we use hydrogen-based fuels instead of direct electrification alternatives, two to 14 times the amount of electricity generation is needed, depending on the application and the respective technologies,” explained research co-author Romain Sacchi. “Efficiency losses happen both on the supply side, in the production process of the hydrogen-based fuels, and on the demand side – a combustion engine wastes a lot more energy than an electrical one.”

The academics defined the current race for green or blue hydrogen and e-fuels as a “potential distraction” from the task of electrifying the global economy, which they claim is more urgent as well as cheaper and easier to achieve. E-fuel costs, on the other hand, may become competitive only if carbon prices will rise significantly before the end of this decade – a scenario that the German-Swiss group described as rather unlikely.

“Even if assuming 100% renewable electricity, the costs of avoiding one ton of CO2 emissions by using hydrogen-based fuels would currently be €800 for liquid and €1,200 for gaseous fuels,” the research team explained. “This is much higher than current CO2 prices, for instance in the European Emissions Trading Scheme, which currently are below €50 per ton.”


May 14, 2021