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Hydrogen Future Would Triple Energy Bills

October 16, 2020
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By Paul Homewood

h/t Tallbloke

There has never been any disagreement that hydrogen can replace natural gas for heating homes. It has always been a question of cost and scalability.

New research by Imperial College has gone into the detail, the first study I have seen to do so. It also looks at whole system costs, including networks, conversion and storage, not just production costs:

 image

Using hydrogen instead of natural gas for heating could help the UK to achieve net carbon-neutrality by 2050, according to new Imperial research.

Currently, non-renewable natural gas from fossil fuels is used to supply half of Europe’s heat demand, with national shares as high as 80 percent in the Netherlands and the UK. However, the UK has committed to developing an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, and one of the ways to achieve this might involve switching natural gas for hydrogen.

Hydrogen has long been hailed as a clean alternative to natural gas. It produces only water when consumed, and it can be distributed through existing infrastructure such as pipelines with minimal adjustments. Yet there is little understanding of the various requirements of this transition, including its cost.

A new Imperial College London study has now, for the first time, laid out a comprehensive assessment of how the UK could convert its national heating network from using natural gas to hydrogen. The paper, published in Energy & Environmental Science, provides a detailed roadmap in setting out the "what," the "where," and the "when" of transitioning.

The research found that transitioning from natural gas to hydrogen for heating could help the UK to reach 2050 targets, but that setting up and running hydrogen-based heating may cost as much as three times that of natural gas.

A key conclusion of this work is that whilst the transition to a hydrogen-based heating system is technically feasible today on the basis of commercially available technologies, there remains an important role for the government to act as market maker to enable this transition.

The researchers say that rolling out a national hydrogen infrastructure can be fast-tracked using a form of hydrogen that cheaper but non-renewable alongside carbon capture and storage while we develop cost-effective renewable-hydrogen options. This form of hydrogen is derived from methane and biomass, which produce some greenhouse gasses, but is cheaper than renewable hydrogen, which requires splitting water using renewable energy sources like wind or solar power.

Alternatively, renewable hydrogen could be combined with existing electric heating capabilities to meet this same goal.

https://techxplore.com/news/2020-10-hydrogen-based-uk-net-zero-carbon.html

The bottom line, which I have highlighted, is that it hydrogen could potentially triple gas bills for consumers, which would cost a typical household £1000 pa. Below is the relevant conclusion from the report:

The levelised cost of a H2-based heat supply ranges between 5.2–8.6 pence per kWh compared to a natural gas supply at 1.1–2.8 pence per kW h.91 Over the lifetime of the infrastructure, the total cost of heat supply may be greater by a factor of 3 on average compared to present prices

https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2020/ee/d0ee02016h#!divAbstract

 

Assuming 20 million homes on the gas grid, this equates to £20bn annually. On top of that are extra costs for commercial and industrial gas users, which will probably add an extra £10bn.

As it is assumed that most of the hydrogen will come from steam reforming, the price of hydrogen will be heavily affected by the price of natural gas. We currently pay about 2.5 pence for gas, which implies the cost of hydrogen will come in at the top side of the range, around 8.6 pence per KWh.

As the report notes, steam reforming does not eliminate all emissions of CO2, even if carbon capture is used. Also there are further emissions upstream from the production and distribution of natural gas. It all raises the question whether such massive costs can be justified by a relatively small amount of emissions saved.

 

One final point. To most of us, 2050 sounds too far in the future to worry about. But to make the transition, big sums will have to be spent, or at least committed, in the not too distant future.

We cannot keep kicking the can down the road for much longer.

35 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2020 5:35 pm

    Burning H2 produces H2O. H2O is a potent greenhouse gas, far more potent than CO2. There is also a lot more of it. If you want to subscribe to the global warming mythology, what for you is the advantage?

    • October 16, 2020 5:43 pm

      Any added H2O will soon fall as rain. There’s a strong altitudinal limit on H2O in the atmosphere.

      • dearieme permalink
        October 16, 2020 5:59 pm

        You have just undermined the key point in global warming simulations. Without an H2O amplifier the CO2 effect is negligible.

      • Geoff permalink
        October 16, 2020 7:24 pm

        The average residual time for all water vapour in the atmosphere, regardless of source is about 9 days. In those 9 days it is responsible for most of the “greenhouse” effect. So, any additional atmospheric water vapour (a hydrogen economy will produce a lot) will certainly add to global heating.

      • October 16, 2020 10:51 pm

        Give us a break Geoff 😂

    • October 16, 2020 6:51 pm

      I posted this on that
      https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2020/07/30/fes-2020-hydrogen-scenario/#comment-167063

      Feel free to calculate it yourself, in case I made any errors.

  2. Joe Public permalink
    October 16, 2020 6:01 pm

    “As it is assumed that most of the hydrogen will come from steam reforming, the price of hydrogen will be heavily affected by the price of natural gas. We currently pay about 2.5 pence for gas, which implies the cost of hydrogen will come in at the top side of the range, around 8.6 pence per KWh.”

    Ah, but if hydrogen is obtained via electrolysis, we won’t need that expensive fossil-fuel feedstock!

    But wait – if it’s sourced via electrolysis, we need to factor-in the cost of electricity. And electrolysis being as energy-inefficient as it is, that might be a tad expensive,

    This Sept 2020 paper “Missing Link to a Livable Climate:
    How Hydrogen-Enabled Synthetic Fuels Can Help Deliver the Paris Goals” has some interesting facts about the gas.

    Page 8, “2.1 Hydrogen Basics” is instructive.

    “Producing hydrogen from water is clean and easy. This is done via a process called electrolysis, where an electric current is passed through water, such that hydrogen and oxygen bubble off separately. However, electrolysis of water requires the input of large amounts of energy to break the strong molecular bonds of H2O. The process is only 60–76% efficient, and further energy losses occur when hydrogen is stored, compressed, or converted to other fuels. Fuel cells and combustion also generate further losses, so the round-trip efficiency of hydrogen (from electricity in electrolysis back to electricity in a fuel cell or an engine) can be surprisingly low: at best 45% and at worst 16%.”

    So it takes between 2.2 and 6.25 units of (electrical) energy to obtain 1 unit of energy at the point of energy use.

    Click to access 2fed7a_0d2e1cc06bff412cb3031fd4bdf93cb0.pdf

    Bloomberg NEF’s Michael Liebreich published this last week: “Separating Hype from Hydrogen – Part One: The Supply Side”

    https://about.bnef.com/blog/liebreich-separating-hype-from-hydrogen-part-one-the-supply-side/

    The BeeB’s ‘Energy Analyst’ R Harrabin Esq might learn a thing or two from it.

    • Mack permalink
      October 16, 2020 9:48 pm

      In summary, by any commercial metric, hydrogen is completely unviable as a grid scale, reliable and secure source of future electricity generation. Next!

    • A man of no rank permalink
      October 17, 2020 11:43 am

      “to break the strong molecular bonds in water” This is wrong, the interatomic covalent bonds are strong and the intermolecular bond forces are relatively weak. Who writes this stuff?d

      • Ray Sanders permalink
        October 19, 2020 1:42 pm

        “Who writes this stuff?” Yes I thought exactly the same. So who does get such basic stuff completely wrong? Well I looked up the linkedin profiles of the two authors and hey presto neither has a science qualification. What a surprise! Worrying thing is they have been “advisors” (aka political activists) to governments.

  3. Harry Passfield permalink
    October 16, 2020 6:03 pm

    Is it not the case that H2 is not strictly renewable? It doesn’t exist in the wild so has to be created. Also, to be renewable it would have to exist in a state that constantly regenerated itself. On this planet.

    • mjr permalink
      October 17, 2020 11:41 am

      but we have lots of water. So we just need the unicorn pooh to produce unlimited cheap electricity to split the water into H2 and O2 , and when you burn H2 it produces water – which you can then be fed to the unicorns,, Totally renewable

  4. Ian Phillips permalink
    October 16, 2020 6:21 pm

    Against the use of hydrogen are several considerations.
    One is the difficulty of containing it. The tiny molecules will escape so easily……eg of similar size to Helium atoms, and how long do those metallised novelty balloons stay inflated.
    Coupled with this is the quite extreme explosive property of H2 if ignited…..all those vehicles and accidents….an extra dimension of risk when the “tank” fractures. Like a bomb going off. Or if your next door neighbour’s CH is a getting a bit ancient and there was an un-noticed leak, half the street could be demolished in the blast.
    And re the manufacture. If the deal is to bury the carbon, we should remind ourselves of the planet’s natural climate cycles, and that sooner or later we’re heading for another pronounced cooling.
    If the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by sequestering it in the ground achieved a result of say 300ppm or so, people might cheer. But if a naturally occuring cooling phase ensued, and the level thereby reduced further by reabsorption into the oceans and land, it could potential fall below the minimum 250ppm required to sustain plant life. A true extinction would then occur, caused entirely by the wilful blindness of our society to all but it’s own one-sided opinions.
    This hydrogen “rush” is all just bending the knee to the Green New Disaster…….
    We must get a new nuclear industry going asap.

    • Joe Public permalink
      October 16, 2020 6:30 pm

      “Coupled with this is the quite extreme explosive property of H2 if ignited…..all those vehicles and accidents….an extra dimension of risk when the “tank” fractures.”

      If a vehicle with a hydrogen storage tank is involved in an accident, and the (700bar) reinforced tank fractures or the supply pipe to the fuel cell fracture, the H2 is most likely to vent safely to atmosphere.

      A leak from a petrol or diesel tank will pool under the vehicle, and the volotile fuel is at risk of ignition from a hot exhaust pipe.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        October 16, 2020 9:47 pm

        There’s a 3.5MJ decompression bomb in a 50litre 700bar tank. No ignition risk?

        https://www.electrive.com/2019/07/01/cause-found-explosion-at-h2-refuelling-station-in-norway/

      • Gary Kerkin permalink
        October 16, 2020 11:26 pm

        Many years ago a colleage demonstrated that hydrogen could be stored as zinc hydride from which it can be recovered at normal pressure by applying modest heat — say ic engine coolant.

      • Iain Reid permalink
        October 17, 2020 8:38 am

        Joe,

        hydrogen when released into the atmosphere can self ignite and burns with a colourless flame. (Hydrogen gas regulators come with a warning not to crack open the cylinder tap to ensure the seating for the regulator is clean prior to fitting the regulator to the cylinder, contrary to all other flamable gasses)
        It is far more volatile than petrol as it ignites with a very much larger spread of concentration in the atmoshere, i.e from very low concentration to very high.

        Hydrogen use is more grasping at straws, equal or worse than renewable generation and that is saying a lot.

    • Mad Mike permalink
      October 17, 2020 11:16 am

      I was thinking about the smallness of the molecules myself. i don’t know if the existing pipe network would contain the hydrogen completely. Ignoring the dangers of explosions, minute leaks would mean substantial losses to the system further making the economics worse.

      • Joe Public permalink
        October 17, 2020 4:31 pm

        IDAU

        “…decompression bomb in a 50litre 700bar tank. No ignition risk?”

        A source of ignition is needed.

        However, H2 is ignited with far less ignition energy (0.02mJ) than petrol/diesel (0.2mJ) (or even natural gas 0.29mJ)

      • Gary Kerkin permalink
        October 17, 2020 9:30 pm

        Countering the implications of a smaller ignition energy, I understand hydrogen has a relatively slow flame speed as demonstrated by burning hydrogen at atmospheric pressure in a horizontal 3” diameter glass tube. I cannot cite numbers to justify my understanding. One of the downsides of a low flame speed and relatively ignition energy is pre-ignition in an internal combustion engine.

  5. Joe Public permalink
    October 16, 2020 6:39 pm

    Michael Liebreich’s: “Separating Hype from Hydrogen – Part Two: The Demand Side” has just been made available/

    The prime takeaway from his analysis of the global situation:

    As a chemical feedstock, of course, hydrogen is irreplaceable. However, as an energy storage medium, it has only a 50% round-trip efficiency – far worse than batteries. As a source of work, fuel cells, turbines and engines are only 60% efficient – far worse than electric motors – and far more complex. As a source of heat, hydrogen costs four times as much as natural gas. As a way of transporting energy, hydrogen pipelines cost three times as much as power lines, and ships and trucks are even worse.

    https://about.bnef.com/blog/liebreich-separating-hype-from-hydrogen-part-two-the-demand-side/

  6. Vernon E permalink
    October 16, 2020 7:21 pm

    The only basis behind this hydrogen nonsense is that it opens the door to CCS because the released CO2 is not diluted by five times its volume of nitrogen. BUT this involves absorption of the CO2 by today’s tehnology will by an amine solution which by the simple laws of physics means the overhead from the absorber will carry an equilibrium amount of amine – which is very nasty indeed. Remember the folks on Teesside when ICI Billingham released amines (from CO2 absorption in making Ammonia) causing an obnoxious stink over the whole region. So, if that CO2 is sequestered it will not only be just an unwanted gas but it will also be toxic. Everyone up for that?

  7. Geoff permalink
    October 16, 2020 7:27 pm

    It is often said that Hydrogen “only” produces water on combustion. However, that is a big “only” because it comes in the form of water vapour, which is a far worse “greenhouse” gas than carbon dioxide. Thus, one can argue that switching to a hydrogen economy would be a retrograde step.

    The UK has actually tried something similar on a large scale in the past. The natural gas currently in use is extracted from the North Sea and is nearly all methane( 90 % +). But prior to the 1960s, the UK was fuelled with a form of non-renewable hydrogen. It was called town gas and made from coal which was 50 % hydrogen/ 35 % methane. Maybe we should go back to that.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      October 16, 2020 8:53 pm

      Geoff, I read a comment at the DT about this. A poster had said exactly what you said (with which I agree) only to have a commenter say: that’s alright, the water vapour rises and soon falls as rain. No problem. (!)
      So, water vapour that falls as rain has no effect on the climate. Hmmm.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      October 16, 2020 10:17 pm

      Several points: it was only distributed at relatively low pressure in town grids. The composition was a little less friendly, containing a significant element of carbon monoxide (hence its use in suicides), while it also had a relatively low calorific value. Each town needed its own gasworks and gasometers. It was relatively expensive to produce, which is why methane supplanted it so readily.

  8. Graeme No.3 permalink
    October 16, 2020 8:27 pm

    Steam reforming of methane only gains (theoretically) 15.4% of hydrogen, so you are looking at around 8 pence per kWh at a minimum and 18 pence at the higher cost of natural gas. Then there is the cost of sequestering the 84+% of CO2.
    By regenerating hydrogen by electrolysis I would point out that those figures 60-76% efficiency are only for high pressure CONTINUOUS electrolysis. 62% theoretical but that figure can be boosted to 76% with added heat (about 20% extra energy). Intermittent hydrolysis is only 36-37% efficient, not allowing for losses. Are the advocates of the ‘hydrogen economy’ claiming that wind turbines supply continuously?
    And don’t forget that these ‘enthusiasts’ want to power vehicles with hydrogen. With a 40% efficient hydrogen fuel cell the cost climbs again.

    Any sane person might think that continued using natural gas for heating woud only release 15% more CO2 but cost less, especially as it wouldn’t involve new pipes, new burners and new safety measures.

  9. jack broughton permalink
    October 16, 2020 9:09 pm

    The scientists who are developing the “hydrogen economy” are all assuming that Carbon Capture and storage will work and be low cost: the scientists working on CCS are assuming that the hydrogen technology will be economic. Heads need to be banged together methinks.

  10. Keith Harrison permalink
    October 16, 2020 9:13 pm

    Hydrogen, an $11T opportunity by 2050 according to this article. Who to believe?

    https://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Fuel-Cells/The-Hydrogen-Boom-Will-Provide-A-200B-Boost-To-Wind-And-Solar-Energy.html

  11. Gamecock permalink
    October 16, 2020 10:44 pm

    ‘Using hydrogen instead of natural gas for heating could help the UK to achieve net carbon-neutrality by 2050, according to new Imperial research.’

    Now that’s funny, I don’t care who you are. UK cannot possibly achieve net zero. Unless you go neolithic. And then, someone will invade your septic isle.

  12. Gary Kerkin permalink
    October 16, 2020 11:31 pm

    There seems to me to be an obvious fallacy which the powers that be have not addressed.

    To generate gaseous hydrogen takes energy. That energy implies a reduction in the efficiency of using the fuel. Why generate hydrogen to heat homes when the original source can be used at higher efficiency?

    Oh! Silly me! Carbon …

  13. It doesn't add up... permalink
    October 17, 2020 11:33 am

    I have been looking at the fantasies included in National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios.. Most are heavily dependent on hydrogen, with the most ambitious including a latge chunk of deep sea floating wind farm that first desalination and then electrolyses sea water, with pipelines to shore for the hydrogen – no expense spared!

    Perhaps the most worrying aspect are the words that imply that these scenarios are being used as the manual for government policy. It makes them particularly sinister, since they require and take as given the major changes in society that ma,e them “possible”.

    As usual, the realitiesof how real weather behaves have been assumed away via massive demand side restrictions and assumptions about interconnectors. There’s also the usual ration of hopium in the technical assumptions.

  14. bluecat57 permalink
    October 18, 2020 2:04 pm

    This is why I’m confused every time I see a WUWT headline:
    How green hydrogen can become cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels
    Charles Rotter / 8 hours ago October 17, 2020

    I couldn’t find a story that I heard not too long ago about why hydrogen is not a viable alternative.
    I did a search for “why hydrogen is not a viable fuel” and found several articles on the topic.
    While you might be able to find a way to use say solar or wind to produce the “zero emissions” hydrogen, how much toxic emissions does building those energy sources need?
    Simple logic tells us “there is no such thing as a free lunch”.

    • bluecat57 permalink
      October 18, 2020 2:08 pm

      An even better explanation is that I must have been confusing this blog with the Watts Up With That blog for the past several years. Now I have to figure out why I’ve been doing that. Am I having a “Biden Moment”? (copyright 2020 BlueCat57, I just made that catchphrase up. Do you think it will catch on?)

  15. October 18, 2020 11:04 pm

    Naturally, they will get their electricity from wind energy. But what would that mean, overall? Well, here’s a sober and sobering look at what that would entail.
    https://kenskingdom.wordpress.com/2020/09/09/an-impossibility-of-windmills/

    It would seem that anyone who believes in the possibility that wind and solar can power a modern country are not just delusional, but possibly insane.

  16. Ray Sanders permalink
    October 19, 2020 1:56 pm

    For what it is worth, the only realistic “low carbon” production of hydrogen is from a nuclear plant. Those rather clever Canadians are developing the Copper-chlorine cycle off the back of Gen IV Candu suopercritical reactors.
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0360319909001438?via%3Dihub

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