Hydrogen – future of energy or passing fad?
Hydrogen is not a new idea for energy experts. As Mykola Kadenskyi, network head at the GTS Operator of Ukraine, noted during the recent Energy Thursday webinar, hydrogen is nothing new for countries like Ukraine.
“Ukrainian nuclear scientists have long been familiar with hydrogen technology because it is used to cool generators,” Kadenskyi explained. “Of course, the volumes are small but the technological process itself is clear.”
What has changed is growing concern about the looming climate crisis. “Green” hydrogen is produced through electrolysis of water, with oxygen as the only by-product (by contrast, so-called “blue” hydrogen involves splitting natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, which is the stored). As a result, it has piqued the interest of political actors prioritizing environmental goals.
...hydrogen is seen as a potential alternative for the fossil fuel dependent transport industry
According to global consultancy McKinsey, this fuel has several uses. Firstly, it serves as a catalyst for a renewables-based energy system transition, making it easier to store energy, transport it across regions, and creating a buffer in the system (shortages can be covered by using up hydrogen stocks).
Furthermore, hydrogen is seen as a potential alternative for the fossil fuel dependent transport industry (i.e., to power vehicles), for industrial uses (both for heating and as a feedstock for chemical reactions), and as an input for heating networks (diluting the natural gas currently used).
But hydrogen also has its sceptics. Most importantly, experts are concerned about other technologies supplanting hydrogen as a preferred energy source – notably batteries that are becoming increasingly effective at storing electrical energy.
Energy transformations require huge investments, with plans being made in five-year installments or even decades. Imagine the fallout if a country bets on batteries, builds thousands of charging and storage stations, consumers buy millions of vehicles, and then the world moves to hydrogen.
But batteries and hydrogen are not necessarily at odds, argues McKinsey. “The relative strengths and weaknesses of these technologies, however, suggest that they should play complementary roles,” reads a recent report, which suggests that lighter batteries are more efficient on smaller distances (personal vehicles), while hydrogen delivers better at long ranges (industrial vehicles or transport). Moreover, batteries would not supplant the role of hydrogen in industry or heating.
Energy transformations require huge investments, with plans being made in five-year installments or even decades