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Harrabin’s Green Hydrogen Plan

May 14, 2021

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.”

  1. Joe Public permalink
    May 14, 2021 11:37 am

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

    Stormy nights, the times turbines are most likely to have their blades feathered to prevent these types of events:

    • Jack Broughton permalink
      May 14, 2021 11:55 am

      Must be the ruskies surely…………………… looked just like a missile attack to me. Would only need a few exocets to remove the monstrosities anyway.

  2. May 14, 2021 11:42 am

    Is the problem with blue hydrogen that it comes from the hated fossil fuel industry?

  3. Jack Broughton permalink
    May 14, 2021 11:50 am

    It’s hard to know where to start in dealing with oafs like harabin who have obtained power and influence far beyond their ability. Hydrogen ought to be ruled out at first base on cost and storage grounds. An additional concern with hydrogen, that the Greenies seem to have missed so far, is that it will potentially do more damage to the climate than any other gas as it can mop-up ozone in the ozone layer (20km asl): needs a new mathematical model no doubt…..

  4. Mack permalink
    May 14, 2021 11:57 am

    Jeez, I think we should have a whip round and by Harrabin an abacus for Christmas. Once he’s done some adding up he might realise that only idiots like him with gold plated salaries and pensions can afford to subsidise these hairbrain schemes, none of which will make a jot of difference to the climate.

    • May 14, 2021 12:24 pm

      Gold plated by the taxpayers, without any choice in the matter. Because the BBC is funded by a system which makes no allowance for their output/performance they don’t have any part of their DNA that can count. They don’t need to worry about such mundane things as money as we useful idiots will keep on paying their bills irrespective of their behaviour/attitudes/output.

  5. Harry Passfield permalink
    May 14, 2021 12:03 pm

    Insanity!!! Using a perfectly good fuel to create heat to be used to create another fuel so that it can be used to create heat for homes.

  6. Gamecock permalink
    May 14, 2021 12:41 pm

    ‘Environmentalists are warning the government’

    They should be arrested.

    Dr. No: Sit down. (Dent obeys) Why have you disobeyed my strictest rule and come in daylight?
    Dent: I had to. Bond came to see me this morning.
    Dr. No: Yes I know. I gave orders that he should be killed. Why is he still alive?
    Dent: Our attempts failed.
    Dr. No: Your attempts failed. I do not like failure. You are not going to fail me again, Professor.
    Dent: No. I came to warn you.
    Dr. No: Warn me?
    Dent: Tell you.

  7. Gofaster permalink
    May 14, 2021 12:43 pm

    Another load of rubbish by Roger Hairybrain. The huge costs and impracticability of these green schemes will eventaully kill them. The good news is that we are at least begging to see some questioning of the costs in the MSN.

  8. ianprsy permalink
    May 14, 2021 1:28 pm

    As usual, asking HOW? instead of WHY?

  9. Ray Sanders permalink
    May 14, 2021 1:35 pm

    It is very illuminating to note just how “electricitycentric” the entire decarbonisation debate has become – it really makes me wonder exactly the motives of the Green blob and who is actually funding them.
    The reason being is that we all know electricity is very difficult indeed to either store over time or to convert into an “energy carrier”. Trying to heat homes using electricity is always going to be expensive let alone impractical at scale. Perhaps a different approach is possible.
    In the UK average annual solar insolation is around 1,000kWh per horizontal square metre. Additionally 75% of that insolation occurs between the Vernal and Autumnal equinoxes.
    So if a home is say 6m x 8m that is 48 square metres of footprint receiving 48,000kWh per annum. Excluding hot water requirement ( a potentially separate issue) a building of that size with affordable levels of insulation (loft, cavity wall infill and double glazing) would likely use under 12,000kWh in space heating per annum.
    Solar thermal panels (evacuated tube) have efficiency levels that are massively higher than any PV panels can provide in electricity approaching ideal conditions. Obviously summer production would require some form of storage if it is to be used in winter.
    There are three principal ways to store heat 1) “Sensible” heat storage which is simply heating up a large volume of material with a high specific heat typically water. This has been done at scale in Canada.
    2) Latent heat storage. This basically involves heating a product through phase change solid/liquid or liquid/gas. The change of phase stores considerably more energy by volume so is a much more compact solution. A typical substance is the decahydrate of sodium sulphate which has a favourable melting point and high latent heat of fusion.
    Why is it that the media rarely, if ever, mentions British companies such as this?
    3) However the far and away the most practical option is ThermoChemical storage where a reversible reaction of 2 products produces a third product plus heat. Best described here.
    At this level of energy density it is starting to become a practical option to store summer solar heat in a small volume to run a boiler (reaction chamber) through the winter.
    Variations on this idea include a hybrid solar PV/Thermal model as this highly detailed thesis proposes.
    Another option is to use thermochemical storage as a means to transport waste heat energy.
    So for example the 2/3rds waste heat from a nuclear reactor could be channelled into the “recharging” of the material to be delivered to homes and the spent material collected from domestic storage units to be recharged.
    I find it very strange that these options are rarely discussed but the crazy idea of green hydrogen is plugged endlessly.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      May 14, 2021 9:15 pm

      This is the reason why there has been a sudden discovery of green hydrogen:

      If you simplify our electricity supply to fully flexible CCGT and increasing amounts of wind generation that are given grid priority, this is the sort of picture you get. Once wind capacity exceeds minimum demand, we start to see wind curtailment. It rises very rapidly as capacity increases. The effective cost for a marginal wind farm is multiplied by 100/(100 – marginal curtailment %). That soon gets very expensive – at 50GW of wind, you are looking at double cost. Yet you still need that backup capacity – capable of ensuring that maximum demand can be met despite Dunkelflaute.

      Add in some must run nuclear capacity, and the position of the wind farms gets even worse.

      • Ray Sanders permalink
        May 15, 2021 12:13 pm

        Vey interesting graphic indeed. So “green hydrogen” has become a bolt on solution (Heath Robinson style) to a problem created by the generation and clearly not a serious attempt at “decarbonising” domestic heating.
        p.s. Never heard that German term before but it certainly sums up the point nicely.

      • Sobaken permalink
        May 18, 2021 10:33 pm

        You could use thermochemical storage instead of electrolysis. It requires rather high temperatures typically, but it’s still possible to electrically heat the material to 400-500 degrees or whatever its “charging” temperature is. Considering the losses that would be involved, I really doubt it’s any more practical than green hydrogen, but wind turbines are impractical to begin with.

  10. John permalink
    May 14, 2021 1:46 pm

    Mr Harrabin has firmly held views which are not going to change however many logical points are put to him. He also seems to be trapped inside the crassly unscientific “settled science” mindset and therefore seeks his data from a closed circle of sources. The scandal is that the BBC allows him the space at public expense to push a one-sided agenda.

  11. A man of no rank permalink
    May 14, 2021 5:09 pm

    As usual, no reference to CO2 having zero effect on Climate, or that you swop one g.gas for another i.e. Water Vapour.
    Its a cold night and all of the flats and terraced houses are pumping out Water Vapour from their hydrogen boilers. Won’t the Dew Point be exceeded?
    The Greens will be happy when we all live in foggy, damp mists – as we often did in the 50s.

  12. Devoncamel permalink
    May 14, 2021 5:58 pm

    Harrabin is clearly so politically biased it makes a mockery of his analyst tag. He is not a scientist or engineer more of a mouthpiece for the green blob. What grates us we’re paying his wages.

    • Devoncamel permalink
      May 14, 2021 5:59 pm

      IS! Hate predictive text.

  13. It doesn't add up... permalink
    May 14, 2021 8:38 pm

    The idea that you get a “free” surplus is of course complete nonsense. You have to build an enormous quantity of turbines to get any kind of surplus at all. Then, that surplus is highly intermittent, and highly variable. That makes capturing and using the surplus a deeply uneconomic proposition, which is why we have curtailment instead. As you increase the capacity still further, the proportion of the surplus also increases – but it still remains highly intermittent and extremely variable. Meanwhile there are still protracted periods of Dunkelflaute during which generation has to be supplemented from other sources.

    You end up with a lot of intermittent surplus that is uneconomic to capture because it doesn’t occur often enough, which therefore has to be curtailed. Curtailed energy increases the effective cost of productive energy – you have to invest to produce it, yet it is useless. The amount that makes any kind of economic sense to use for electrolysis remains very small. Meanwhile, the effective utilisation of incremental wind capacity falls, pushing up the effective cost of the “surplus”generation. You may of course choose to run your electrolysis when there is no wind surplus, but then you are effectively using alternative generation to power it, because if the generation is diverted from meeting normal demand, other generation must operate to replace it. You can look at that as using up the hydrogen you have made to generate electricity to make more hydrogen inefficiently – or simply, wasting energy.

    See this chart:

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      May 15, 2021 11:19 am

      IDAU: I like to think that you have sent this comment to Boris and that it might, just might give him pause about his ridiculous ‘Saudi of Wind UK’.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        May 15, 2021 12:02 pm

        I try to look for MPs who show signs of being able to follow the arguments, and of being sufficiently interested to actually read them rather than have a standard climate email sent out in response. Having seen Penny Mordaunt come out against the Aquind interconnector. I am considering offering her a much fuller range of considerations about interconnectors in the hope she might use them. She has enough technical background from her navy days, I think. However, she is a government minister as Paymaster General, so she may not engage.

    • Gamecock permalink
      May 15, 2021 12:37 pm

      “Meanwhile there are still protracted periods of Dunkelflaute during which generation has to be supplemented from other sources.”

      True, but you have the perspective backwards. Wind generation can only ever be supplemental.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        May 15, 2021 4:39 pm

        I view it differently: wind generation can only be detrimental.

    • Sobaken permalink
      May 18, 2021 10:43 pm

      The second article seems to conclude that the amount of “green” hydrogen produced would be miniscule (exactly because utilisation of electrolysers is going to be low even in high wind build out scenarios), therefore it’s only ever going to be used for high-temperature industrial heat and heavy vehicle fuel, and the rest they propose to electrify. Which is an even more nonsensical proposition than using “blue” hydrogen, considering enormous peak demands electrification would cause and amounts of backup capacity that would require. Using CCS reforming is simply expensive and wasteful, but it doesn’t leave you freezing in the dark with an overloaded grid whenever the wind calms.

  14. Coeur de Lion permalink
    May 14, 2021 9:15 pm

    Watching ( or listening! ) for the first hindenburg

  15. DL fagan permalink
    May 14, 2021 9:30 pm

    What all the greens and govermnet have forgoten to price is the fact that every inch of steel gas pipe from the street to the meter will have to be replaced as it is not suitable for hydrogen gas!!! Estimated cost for average semi. £5-£7000. plus costs of shutting raods etc. Still doesnt matter cos there will be no traffic cos the poor wont be driving.
    The Russian revolation was caused by the elite not listening. Dont worry I would not shot them just lock them in a very large hamster wheel linked to a generator for when its dark and there is no wind.

    • Duker permalink
      May 15, 2021 2:35 am

      “every inch of steel gas pipe from the street to the meter will have to be replaced”

      While I dont think changing from natural gas to hydrogen is a great idea, the above claim seems to forget the original ‘town gas’ had a very large proportion of hydrogen anyway.

  16. May 15, 2021 8:50 am

    a potent planet-heating gas

    If only the public knew, there’s no such thing outside of computer models programmed by dogmatists putting the CO2/methane cart before the climate horse, and getting results that never correspond to reality.

    • MikeHig permalink
      May 15, 2021 2:04 pm

      ….and they never explain how miniscule traces of methane could have any effect when its absorption spectrum is swamped by that of water vapour, present in concentrations thousands of times higher.

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