Hydrogen represents a key part of the energy mix on the global path towards carbon neutrality. This emergent fuel is a leading contender to be a sustainable, seasonal energy storage solution. It could be used to balance the short-term intermittency of wind and solar and easily transported using modified natural gas infrastructure.
However, the green hydrogen value chain is set to be more complicated than any current energy-carrying vector. It will be broader, more complex, and have more stakeholders. Therefore, optimising green hydrogen production will rely on visibility across the value chain.
The concept of hydrogen energy storage is based on the ability to use excess renewable electricity to run the hydrogen production process. Hydrogen can be safely stored in underground caverns and eventually re-electrified when needed. The stored hydrogen can produce electricity from a fuel cell or by flowing into a specially designed turbine.
Projects in the 100 MW range have already been installed in the UAE, Australia, and China. The largest project is being developed in Utah, US, and aims to store enough hydrogen in salt caverns to produce up to 1,000 MW of electricity.
But while the utility industry understands the potential for green hydrogen in power generation, it is only just starting to embrace hydrogen’s wider uses and the role utilities could play in an expanded value chain.
As green hydrogen matures, utilities are well positioned to own hydrogen production facilities, transport hydrogen in existing natural gas pipelines, build new hydrogen infrastructure, or own hydrogen-fired generation assets. Other opportunities exist to supply hydrogen for building heating, a blend of hydrogen and methane, or for combined heat and power plants.
According to a recent global survey of 112 utilities, nearly half of respondents agree that green hydrogen is a significant revenue opportunity but only 19% have a clearly defined strategy for the upcoming fuel.
But while it is uncertain what the green hydrogen value chain will look like in a decade’s time, the utilities industry should not press pause on development. If anything, future uncertainty makes upfront planning even more of a priority.
Each new green hydrogen project teaches more about electrolysis technology and its infrastructure requirements and makes the future that much clearer. The challenge for the industry in general, as well as for individual utilities, is to gain knowledge from current projects, learn more about the most viable technologies, and decide on what role to play in the future green hydrogen ecosystem.
Some utilities are planning to own a significant proportion of the value chain; in other markets, there may be four or five companies involved just in its production, storage, and transport, and in green hydrogen-fired generation.
Green hydrogen’s promise – should the current research be successful – is to help utilities achieve decarbonisation goals while providing reliable and affordable electricity.
More than anything, the long-term viability of green hydrogen will demand a strong data foundation. Knowing when to profitably produce, transport, and store hydrogen or when to convert it into other chemicals will be dictated by many factors.
These include an oversupply of renewables generation, steel, ammonia, or fertilizer prices, or regulated hydrogen reserve levels. A robust data infrastructure will provide all stakeholders with the enterprise-level situational awareness required to make the right choices at the right time.
Owing to the complexities of the future hydrogen ecosystem, modern technologies capable of leveraging real-time data and analytics will be fundamental to the optimisation of the overall process. End-to-end situational awareness of the green hydrogen value chain will enable stakeholders to make insights-driven business decisions.
Situational awareness relies on a robust data infrastructure that manages a wide range of data types including market-related, critical operational support, asset management, predictive maintenance, long-term planning, and business process optimisation.
The industry is at the beginning of its learning journey, but there is a risk that its focus will be mostly on developing electrolysis proofs of concept or modifying natural gas delivery systems to transport hydrogen.
These innovative ambitions should be similarly matched with the development of a common information infrastructure and analytics. The future viability of the green hydrogen economy relies on optimised data flow across all stakeholders.
- As green hydrogen matures, utilities are well positioned to transport hydrogen in existing natural gas pipelines.
- Opportunities exist to supply hydrogen for building heating, a blend of hydrogen and methane.
- Nearly half of respondents agree that green hydrogen is a significant revenue opportunity but only 19% have a clearly defined strategy.
- The green hydrogen value chain is set to be more complicated than any current energy-carrying vector.
- Optimising green hydrogen production will rely on visibility across the value chain.