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Can Green Hydrogen Replace Natural Gas?

October 20, 2022
tags:

By Paul Homewood

 

 RWE's innovative electrolysis project Eemshydrogen enters next phase 

 

Rising fossil fuel prices have refocussed attention on hydrogen and electrolysis. We can of course make hydrogen by steam reforming gas, but this merely exacerbates the problem of high gas prices.

Which leaves us with using electrolysis, powered by wind power.

So just how much wind capacity would we need to replace the natural has that we currently consume in the UK?

I’m not suggesting for one minute that this would happen, not least because it would be infeasible. But it gives an idea of the scale of the problem.

Here’s some basic calculations:

  • Gas consumption last year was 860 TWh
  • Electrolysis typically works at about 60% efficiency. That is, an input of 100 MWh would produce 60 MWh of hydrogen
  • Electricity input to produce 860 TWh of gas would be 1433 TWh
  • Assuming this electricity comes from dedicated offshore wind farms, we would need capacity of 364 GW.
  • Current offshore capacity is 13 GW

The scaling up is daunting, and remember that we would need to build 364 GW every 20 years or so, given the life of offshore wind turbines. In other words, we would need to build 18 GW every year.

One thing which should now be obvious is that the idea of only using “surplus” electricity from the planned 45 GW of offshore wind would make no tangible difference to our energy mix.

In terms of capital costs, based on BEIS assumptions, 164 GW of electrolyser capacity would cost £122 billion. On top of that, the 364 GW of offshore wind power would cost another £1.6 trillion, based on Gordon Hughes’ calculations of £4.49 million per MW.

And this is before you start to factor in storage and distribution costs.

Using electrolysis would of course avoid the need to buy natural gas, which at current prices costs around £146 billion a year, but a year ago was running at £25 billion. Some of this would be offset by the operational costs of the wind farms and electrolysers.

What is apparent is that a large scale switch to hydrogen would lock in the current sky high prices for the next twenty years.

57 Comments
  1. October 20, 2022 4:07 pm

    That is OK with those that prosper from the return on capital involved. Energy prices ‘have’ to be high for all this to work, its part of the plan. Ukraine war, blowing up pipelines etc; all grist to the mill.
    Its naive to believe there is anyone ‘out there’ who gives a fig about ordinary folk any more.

  2. Jack Broughton permalink
    October 20, 2022 4:08 pm

    Of course, all of this investment is not for any actual improvement in the lot of UK people. A lot of extra capital and operational costs just because the ruling group are convinced that they can control the climate by reducing emissions of a harmless gas. Virtue signalling gone mad!

  3. October 20, 2022 4:22 pm

    we would need to build 18 GW every year

    Without using gas or coal in the manufacture of it, obviously. Give us a break greenies 😆

    • 186no permalink
      October 20, 2022 4:37 pm

      As the Chinese do – oops, sorry, forget they were a “special case” under the COP 26 Do As I Say Not As I Do Protocol ….

    • T Walker permalink
      October 20, 2022 5:33 pm

      Come on oldbrew – it all grows on trees doesn’t it?

    • Ian Johnson permalink
      October 20, 2022 9:51 pm

      and oil, for the resins for the blades.

  4. Harry Passfield permalink
    October 20, 2022 4:23 pm

    Green Hydrogen wouldn’t get a look-in if fracking was in production. Makes you wonder who benefits from the XR mobs’ campaigns to close down oil and gas? And who are they paying in the XR groups to make it all happen to their benefit?
    We truly are being led by donkeys – and any talk of BJ returning would only work in my book if he swore to drop NetZero.

    • Julian Flood permalink
      October 20, 2022 6:37 pm

      HP, ITYM ‘drops Princess Numnuts.’

      JF

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        October 20, 2022 7:27 pm

        👍

      • Mad Mike permalink
        October 21, 2022 4:31 am

        I can’t find it now but I read recently about the Hewlett-Packhard foundation backing organisations that feed our journalists with green info. Apparently the pressure to get copy out is forcing our journo’s to rely on such info to more or less cut and paste to produce stories. These stories in the DT etc will be treated as good investigative journalism by the public when in truth they will be lazy hacks saving their jobs.

  5. It doesn't add up... permalink
    October 20, 2022 4:24 pm

    The only reason hydrogen us being considered is that finally one or two people have worked out that as you increase wind capacity you end up with more and more curtailment on windy days. They have also worked out that batteries are completely unaffordable as a way to store the surplus for use on windless days, and that hydrogen would be a little cheaper.

    It is never costed, nor is it evaluated properly, accounting for the part time basis on which surpluses would be available, and the huge variation in the size of those surpluses. The storage requirements to cover periods of low wind are never calculated – only a notional deficit measured in GW. The whole thing is a fraud.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      October 22, 2022 12:01 pm

      Hope you pick up on this one catweazle. I was interested in your links and did a bit more research as I was initially somewhat sceptical. Checking out this company https://h2au.co/ I found I knew of a couple of those involved (their MD was with NIREX https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirex) and would say they are people to take seriously and unlikely to be chancers out for a fast buck from a subsidy gravy train.
      I also noticed the French are taking this seriously as well as initial surveys suggest they may have viable sites. Furthermore there is some research from Glasgow university where helium surveying around coal bed methane sites also suggested natural hydrogen in significant quantity.
      Hopefully it is more than just wishful thinking and I shall be keeping an eye on this. If you hear any more it might be an area to flag up on this and other sites.

      • catweazle666 permalink
        October 22, 2022 4:31 pm

        Thanks for that Ray, interesting!
        Aside from its use as a fuel, “gold” hydrogen could be a useful low cost feedstock for many processes.

  6. October 20, 2022 4:44 pm

    Talking of natural gas…

    OCTOBER 20, 2022
    New Zealand farmers protest livestock ‘burp and fart’ tax
    https://phys.org/news/2022-10-zealand-farmers-protest-livestock-burp.html

  7. Chris Phillips permalink
    October 20, 2022 4:50 pm

    Very interesting calculations and they show the total folly of expecting wind electricity produced “green” hydrogen to replace our natural gas consumption, let alone enable the same electricity to power all our transport as well. Even if the electricity was instead produced from nuclear power stations, we’d need 364 of them at the typical 1GW output of such stations. Some hope of that!
    These calculations must have been done by numerous scientists and engineers so why aren’t they holding politicans’ and eco-loons’ feet to the fire on them? I can only assume that they fear for their jobs if the go against the current green orthodoxy.

  8. October 20, 2022 5:03 pm

    The question itself is rather like asking whether it would be better to get off your bike and walk to get to your destination more efficiently.
    I could waffle on about this but perhaps better to leave you all fast asleep in an Hydrogen infused dream.

  9. John Hultquist permalink
    October 20, 2022 5:29 pm

    “Scale” is a concept unknown to the Climate Cult.
    Almost everything said or done about saving the climate suffers from this. Simple arithmetic is hard.

  10. Ben Vorlich permalink
    October 20, 2022 5:30 pm

    Well if producing hydrogen using electricity generated at times of surplus when wind farms would normally be paid to switch off without being paid to do it then that’s a win.
    Then if this is accurate
    Energy firms SSE Renewables and Siemens Gamesa have proposed producing hydrogen at a wind farm in the Highlands.

    Surplus electricity generated at SSE’s Gordonbush site near Brora would be used to make the fuel.

    Under the plans, the hydrogen would be sold as an alternative to petrol, diesel and natural gas.

    The facility would be capable of producing 2,000 tonnes of hydrogen a year. According to SSE, that would be enough to power almost 5,000 hydrogen-fuelled taxis, 275 buses or 150 HGVs for a year.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/articles/cmlmmpvl428o#:~:text=Energy%20firms%20SSE%20Renewables%20and%20Siemens%20Gamesa%20have,an%20alternative%20to%20petrol%2C%20diesel%20and%20natural%20gas.

    Then some remote island communities might benefit, but I do not know how much of a Reality Check the BBC have done on the numbers.

    • T Walker permalink
      October 20, 2022 5:51 pm

      Ben, you are worrying me.

      Does Auntie ever do Reality Checks on anything?

      • John Wainwright permalink
        October 24, 2022 9:07 am

        Only if the outcome suits their chosen narrative. If it does not, the resulting ‘reality’ is quietly buried.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      October 21, 2022 10:38 am

      Ben, the REF did a report on this particular windfarm which is quite revealing.
      https://www.ref.org.uk/ref-blog/353-gordonbush-wind-farm-extension
      Despite being already heavily constrained the Scottish government agree for it to be extended and with larger turbines. Rather milking it I think and this scheme is to get paid multiple times for the same electricity.

  11. T Walker permalink
    October 20, 2022 5:37 pm

    It strikes me that those employed by government that recommend all this to the useless politicians are close to Malfeasance in public office. Remember Italy put Volcanologists in prison for negligence a few years back.

  12. Tony Cole permalink
    October 20, 2022 6:00 pm

    Then there is the massive energy required to compress hydrogen into a usable form. As a small molecule the energy and equipment needed is disproportionally expensive. Just not feasible.

  13. Mark Hodgson permalink
    October 20, 2022 6:28 pm

    Paul, I looked at hydrogen from a different article a while ago at Cliscep:

    Hydrogen Boom

  14. Ray Sanders permalink
    October 20, 2022 7:19 pm

    I could go on and on forever about the major problems regarding this nonsense of a hydrogen economy…but here is just one thing to think about. Not all hydrogen is the same – What?! How could it possibly be that hydrogen could be different dependent on how it is produced?
    For relative simplicity here is a Wiki link
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spin_isomers_of_hydrogen
    Electrolysis produces “unnatural” ratios of Ortho and Para with far more Ortho originally produced. I quote “When hydrogen is liquified at low temperature, there is a slow spontaneous transition to a predominantly para ratio, with the released energy having implications for storage.”
    Oh dear it heats up, now consider the Joule Thomson Effect where hydrogen can also actually heat up upon expansion from pressure reduction. (The gas transmission network operates at almost 100Bar.)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joule%E2%80%93Thomson_effect
    Presumably in all this delirious rush to promote hydrogen nobody thought to actually consult people who might actually understand the issue and the massive dangers involved.

  15. The Informed Consumer permalink
    October 20, 2022 8:20 pm

    How much more of this magical gas would we require to run our transportation?

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      October 21, 2022 11:37 am

      1 kg of hydrogen in a fuel cell driven car equates to about the same mileage as a gallon of diesel. So rather a lot!

      • Dave Andrews permalink
        October 22, 2022 5:38 pm

        Network Rail ruled out hydrogen ( and batteries) as a fuel for freight trains and for long distance high speed passenger trains as these have higher energy needs than hydrogen (and batteries) can provide.

        Hydrogen has one eighth the energy density of diesel fuel so the fuel storage tanks on the trains would need to be 8 times larger,for example.

      • Ray Sanders permalink
        October 22, 2022 8:44 pm

        To Dave Andrews, by mass hydrogen has almost triple the energy density of methane. That would not have been the reason Network Rail ruled out hydrogen. The tanks would simply be pressurised so would not have had to be 8 times “larger”.

      • HotScot permalink
        October 23, 2022 2:24 am

        @Ray Sanders.

        Diesel doesn’t need to be pressurised.

  16. Graeme No.3 permalink
    October 20, 2022 9:25 pm

    I shouldn’t say this as it would cause distress among Greenies but the cheapest method of producing hydrogen is from coal, esp. brown coal as that is the cheapest. But that hydrogen wouldn’t be ‘green’.

  17. Carnot permalink
    October 20, 2022 9:56 pm

    I work in the petrochemical and fuel sector. The idea that hydrogen is a solution is fanciful at best. A recent paper by Columbia University presents a realistic view of the potential for hydrogen to recycle carbon dioxide- the Holy Grail. They calcualte a price for hydrogen from renewables far above the current cost of hydrogen from methane, based on optimistic costs for PV and wind electricity. It is by far the best and realistic asssessment that I have seen, produced in 2021, when the true cost of wind and solar was supposedley decreasing. Not any more . Just look at copper pricing. Here is the link

    Click to access CO2-Recycling_CGEP_Report_043021.pdf

    It takes alot of reading but blows the lid off hydrogen and carbon dioxide recycling. If you cannot understand the discussion then shout and I will do my best.

  18. kzbkzb permalink
    October 21, 2022 1:33 am

    Using hydrogen for domestic heating is ridiculous. But using it to power fuel-cell vehicles is quite interesting.
    Not the least because such vehicles refuel in a similar way to petrol and diesel vehicles. So that 40% of us without garages and drives for EV charging could carry on much as we are.

    • Tones permalink
      October 21, 2022 10:19 am

      Presumably could also be used in IC engines as well? Didn’t M-B stop work on fuel-cells for cars because it would make them to expensive?

      • kzbkzb permalink
        October 21, 2022 11:49 am

        Yes but a fuel cell is about two to three times as efficient as an IC engine. I don’t think anyone has ever perfected a practical real world fuel cell that runs off fossil fuel, but hydrogen fuel cells have a long history. So it is best to use the hydrogen energy carrier as efficiently as possible. The overall efficiency is still way below that of a battery EV, but the refueling situation still makes it desirable for many.

  19. kzbkzb permalink
    October 21, 2022 1:36 am

    Also note that hydrogen can be produced directly from nuclear reactor heat, using a catalytic cycle. There is no need to generate electricity and then use that electricity for electrolysis, it can be done with heat alone.

  20. marlene permalink
    October 21, 2022 10:38 am

    “What is apparent is that a large scale switch to hydrogen would lock in the current sky high prices for the next twenty years.”  And unfortunately this is the direction biden’s US is going, and it’s the Plan. 

  21. October 21, 2022 11:30 am

    Paul, do your calculations include the fact that hydrogen has amuch lower energy density than natural gas?

  22. Gerry, England permalink
    October 21, 2022 12:26 pm

    Well, well, the Dutch scheme in the heading is somewhere I know well from motorcycle racing. The windmills are at Eemshaven and already exist. A round of the Dutch championship used to be held there over the Ascension Day holiday weekend – Hemelvaart – along with 2 days of club racing. Road races apart from at Hengelo no longer take place partly due to the riders, ever increasing speeds and developments. It used to be empty fields at Eemshaven but it has been built on as the port expands. Delfzijl is a bit further down the Eems estuary and I can attest that Eemshaven is pretty windy and can be quite bleak even in June with the wind howling off the North Sea. So their scheme may have some merit but probably only with high electricity prices.

  23. October 21, 2022 2:10 pm

    WATCH THIS RE HEAT PUMPS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uNKPDREa-Q&t=123s

    Don’t forget we burn a LOT of hydrogen when we burn Methane. We separate hydrogen from carbon and recombine both with oxygen. Who knew?

    A:Everyone who understands chemistry 101.

    CH4+2O2 = CO2 + 2H2O. Hydrogen is half the combustion energy or more. Why make it more expensive by separating it first, (from water or methane) which uses almost all the energy we get from burning it later? The whole idea makes no sense from the start.

    Why do it? People are too ignorant to understand it’s a deliberate fraud and insiders can make a fortune from an overt fraud subsidised by corrupt politicians claiming to be “green” and “net zero”.

    MONEY.

    Adding expensively separated H2 to the grid is overtly pointless, it’s better transported round the grid and burnt as part of methane. It can’t work at scale on the extant grid as pure hydrogen. Leaks and explosions, etc. But it can be monetised by expensively piggy backing the efficient effective gas infrastructure.

    So the real Hydrogen agenda is to be parasitic for its massively regressive subsidy on what works, the gas distribution infrastructure it is mixed with but cannot use at scale.

    This is the same racket as the parasitic renewables on the 24/7 low cost dispatchable electricity grid powered by nuclear and fossil energy, that renewables depend on being there as host for their parasitic subsidy they cannot be used without, and ditto expensively subsidised low energy biofuel that cars and planes won’t run on on its own diluting the cheaper more energetic capable hosts of petrol and diesel fuel it is parasitic upon by law.

    All are cynical exploitation of our highly refined to purpose main energy distribution assets, justified by the actual deceit of green agendas, that in fact exploit the cost effective plentiful energy sources we have to monetise the inadequate and ineffective at scale parasitic energy sources imposed by law that degrade our energy supply cost effectiveness, that can never deliver what they claim on their own at serious scale.

    In general, what works is used as way to make fortunes from a claimed solution to a non problem in measured fact, that can never work at scale, that makes its capable proven host less efficient and more expensive by law, in the name of a problem created in a computer model that observations of natural science, the reality, say is not happening.

    You can’t make it up.

  24. Vernon E permalink
    October 21, 2022 2:58 pm

    Its mis-leading to say that hydrogen can only be produced by steam reforming of natural gas. For decades hydrogen for our domestic gas as well as for world-wide production of ammonia (for fertilisers) was produced by steam reforming of light naphtha. That could be done and coupled with domestic gas by mixing about twenty percent hydrogen into the gas distribution grid. But why? Its far easier to just burn liquid distillates directly in our CCGT generators. Anyway, I don’t think it would be possible to safely “blend” hydrogen into the domestic system, but it has been much talked about.

    • catweazle666 permalink
      October 21, 2022 5:03 pm

      Not forgetting water gas produced by blowing steam through white hot coke, often supplemented by pumping either gas oil or petroleum flash distillate (naphtha) into the stream too, of course.

      A nasty dangerous process, the plant where I worked had hinged slats in the roof to let out the overpressure when it blew back, despite which it still didn’t have many remaining windows still with glass in them.

      • Vernon E permalink
        October 23, 2022 12:13 pm

        Cat W: I really wish you would stop banging on about the days when you were a slave working on coal retorts. These things were around since the 18th century but were replaced by ICI steam reformers in the 1960s. Nice clean, fully automated technology , no spades involved. Just because your former employer missed out on the boanza doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

      • catweazle666 permalink
        October 23, 2022 3:51 pm

        In fact it was the last remaining coal gas plant still running in the UK and I worked there throughout the so-called “Dash for Gas, as most of the plant was dismantled, subsequently on the conversion process when I gained considerable experience of all the new technology, I was one of the pioneers in the development and installation of it, so think on that before you patronise me.
        I learned a great deal about REAL engineering during the year or so I worked with the old Woodall-Duckham continuous vertical retorts and their associated Victorian technology, much was still driven by steam engines, experience I am damn glad I gained because it gave a depth of knowledge that stood me in good stead in my subsequent career.
        As to slavery, I think that’s you, actually, with your inability to acknowledge anyone else’s viewpoint and experience but your own rather restricted one.
        So get over yourself, why don’t you, or I’ll start to suspect you’re jealous of the fact that I was fortunate enough to experience an era that you were unfortunate to miss out on.

    • Mikehig permalink
      October 21, 2022 5:47 pm

      Vernon E; “Its far easier to just burn liquid distillates directly in our CCGT generators. ”

      You have made that point many times on recent threads but just how “easy” would it be?
      Unlike Ireland, our existing CCGTs are not configured for dual-fuel firing. So I have to ask again, what would it take to modify them – is it even practical?

      Quite agree that blending H2 into the gas network is pointless and problematic, not least because our CCGTs can only accept a very low level of hydrogen, if any, depending on the brand of turbine.

      • Ray Sanders permalink
        October 22, 2022 12:30 pm

        “You have made that point many times on recent threads but just how “easy” would it be?”
        Rather difficult in reality. A specific example –
        “Mitsubishi Power Systems (today Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas) was awarded the contract and completed work in only 11 months (November 2007) to satisfy project requirements.”
        https://www.ccj-online.com/combined-cycle-journal-number-50/convert-to-dual-fuel-from-gas-oil-firing-comparable-to-gas-at-501f-peaking-plant/

      • Vernon E permalink
        October 22, 2022 3:20 pm

        Ray: Interesting reference but unfortunately the link for more technical detail fails. It doesn’t say much about adaption of the machines themselves but, obviously, there has to be construction of unloading and storage facilities. I’ve said myself that tanks etc would take about a year to build. I also do not envisage road tanker deliveries. There is a 2 GW station at Pembroke, for example, that woud probably be be suitable for tanker deliveries. The article is also ambiguous about the fuel – “fuel oil” in places “distillate” in others. I can’t for the life of me see why on spec aviation kerosene would need further treatment. God help the pssaengers if it does.Whatever it is will still be a heck of a lot cheaper than the alternatives (nuclear?). Thank you.

      • Vernon E permalink
        October 23, 2022 12:16 pm

        Mike: Irrelevant. The specifications for domestic gas are so tight they would override anything gas turbines call for. The latter will burn pretty well anything so long as there is no vanadium preseny.

      • Mikehig permalink
        October 24, 2022 10:52 am

        Vernon: there was a study for the government on adapting the grid for hydrogen (iirc Ray S or Joe Public gave a link). Two major turbine manufacturers were consulted. One said their machines could tolerate up to 10% hydrogen ( as a fixed blend). The other said zero.
        The concerns with hydrogen were stated as flame temp and speed – different burners are required. Also the high temps tend to promote NOx formation.
        Ray: thanks for that link. Good to see that it can be done. Power Technology describes the plant as having has two 160 MW Siemens turbines; clearly anything bigger would need pipeline supply, as Vernon says.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      October 22, 2022 9:00 pm

      Vernon, have you personally ever worked on a CCGT? If so what were your provisions for NOx control? It is not as simple a you seem to think to dual fuel one. It can be done but is not easy at all. Your comment ” God help the pssaengers if it does.” is frankly bizarre and indicates you really do not understand the issues.

      • Vernon E permalink
        October 23, 2022 12:07 pm

        Ray: I am very sceptical about these NOx issues. I suspect that the steps taken result from some extreme EU environmental regulation and would apply whatever the fuel is. We don’t put steam into the current CCGT facilities and we most certainly don’t inject steam into aero engines despite having thousands of take-offs and landings every day. This is a red herring. And yes, I have worked with gas turbines right back to the mid 1970s.

        And I would like to add that your previous reference proved that it can be, is being done and probably needs a bit of pushing from government.

        What is it going to take to get across that CCGTs are just big aero engines – with all their merits of efficiency, reliabilty and flexibility.

  25. October 21, 2022 4:10 pm

    Electrolysis of hydrogen should be limited to student lab demonstrations in high school classrooms. It is utterly useless as a scalable means of producing hydrogen. Talk about upside-down. Oh, those pesky laws of TDN, again ruining another magic unicorn energy source of the intellectually limited. And whom will pay for a completely new distribution system to move it around? This entire concept is an exercise in self-abuse; you know, playing with oneself.

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