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Does green hydrogen count as energy storage?
By Richard Heap


Every October, the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary unveil the list of new words and phrases that they’ll be adding this year. It’s fair to say that the 2019 list – ‘chillax’, ‘easy-breezy’, ‘simples’ – will be far more fun that this year's. ‘Coronavirus’, ‘self-isolation’ and ‘social distancing’, surely?

But there is another phrase that arrived seemingly overnight in the energy sector in 2020. That is ‘green hydrogen’ and, suddenly, it was everywhere.

The concept of green hydrogen has been growing in popularity over the last couple of years, particularly in offshore wind. This is because hydrogen can be produced by the electrolysis of water, which is where electricity is used to split water into its two constituent elements: hydrogen and oxygen.

If the electricity comes from renewable or low-carbon sources – such as offshore wind – then it’s called ‘green hydrogen’.

On that basis, it qualifies as energy storage. It takes unused electricity from one source and, rather than letting it go to waste, is converting it into another form. This is why we have seen a series of large projects announced this year.

Ørsted, ITM Power, Element Power and Phillips 66 last month won £7.5m support from the UK government for the second phase of its Gigastack project. The group is looking to develop the first industrial-scale 100MW electrolysers and pair them with the 1.4GW Hornsea 2 offshore wind farm, which is set to be commissioned in 2022.

Also last month, Dutch giants Shell and Gasunie unveiled a plan to build a huge green hydrogen project, called NortH2, in northern Netherlands. This would be powered by a 3GW-4GW offshore wind project in Dutch waters by 2030.

And this month, BP and RWE formed a consortium with Evonik, Nowega and OGE to develop the world’s first grid that would connect industrial users with producers of green hydrogen. The first phase of the 130km GET H2 Nukleus grid is due to export its first hydrogen by the end of 2022.

The roster of multinational partners interested across these three schemes shows just how seriously utility giants are taking green hydrogen.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Renewable Energy Agency, has said: “Hydrogen can help overcome many difficult energy challenges. It can decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors like steel, chemicals, tuck ships and planes.”

But there are obstacles.

The first is that hydrogen is an industry where there is little agreement over what is meant by specific terms, and so we could see other types of hydrogen projects seeking to call themselves 'green'. Here are our preferred definitions:

Green hydrogen: Produced by electrolysis using electricity from a renewable source such as wind, or another non-low-carbon source such as nuclear.

Brown hydrogen: Produced by taking a solid fossil fuel, such as coal or lignite, and combining it with oxygen and steam at high pressures and temperatures. This makes hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, but also pollutes.

Grey hydrogen: Produced with a process called steam methane reforming. This is where methane from natural gas is heated with steam and a catalyst such as nickel. This makes hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, but also pollutes. Around 70% of hydrogen produced in the world uses this method.

Blue hydrogen: This is the same as brown and grey hydrogen, but uses carbon capture and storage (CCS) to catch the carbon dioxide emissions and store them. Its backers say it makes those other processes carbon neutral.

Of these, green hydrogen is the only one we see as a form of energy storage. CCS can help reduce the environmental impacts of brown and grey hydrogen, but only green hydrogen takes excess energy from renewable sources and converts it into a useful product. But there are many conflicting definitions!

The other aspect is that it will take a long time for green hydrogen to drive the change Birol wants. It requires rapid commercialisation of the technology and vast amounts of renewable energy to create hydrogen on the scale needed.

So yes, it is storage – but it isn’t a quick fix.

News In Brief
Eni and Falck form 1GW US tie-up

Italian energy companies Eni and Falck Renewables have completed the creation of a 50:50 joint venture to develop 1GW of renewable energy and energy storage projects in the US by 2023. Read more

Gresham House buys 50MW UK battery

Investor Gresham House is set to buy a 50MW battery project near Rotherham for its energy storage fund. The project is due to complete by the end of June 2020. Read more

CTR and Lilac in California lithium drive

Controlled Thermal Resources and Lilac Solutions have teamed up to extract 'green' lithium from one of the world's largest geothermal resources, in the Salton Sea area of California. Read more

European storage slows 'significantly'

Growth in European energy storage significantly slowed in 2019, according to EASE and Delta-EE. The pair have published their 'European Market Monitor on Energy Storage' report, which said the slowdown was due to emerging regulations. Read more

BP and RWE join German hydrogen network

BP, Evonik, Nowega, OGE and RWE Generation have teamed up to develop Germany's first publicly-accessible hydrogen network to supply growing amounts of green hydrogen to industrial companies. The GET H2 Nukleus project is due to complete in late 2022. Read more

Lacuna raises $50m for solar and storage

Lacuna Sustainable Investments has raised $50m to invest in development-stage solar and storage projects. The fund is set to invest pre-construction equity, preferred equity and subordinated debt. Read more

Penso wins backing for 50MW extension

Penso Power has won approval for a 50MW extension to its 100MW battery storage project in Wiltshire in the UK. Work started onsite in December and the initial 100MW is due to complete this autumn. Read more

Avalon and redT form vanadium firm

US-based Avalon Battery Corporation and UK-based redT are merging to form a £58m firm, called Invinity, that is focused on the development and commercialisation of vanadium redox flow batteries. Read more

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