Building Renewable Energy Resilience with Hydrogen
Seven years post the landmark Paris Climate Accords, modernized nations are aiming to phase out fossil fuels in their energy systems. While it was easy to commit to a net-zero tomorrow, achieving those promises was another matter entirely.
Urban cities, in particular, depend on a stable, secure, and sustainable power supply. And while wind and solar energy have been touted as promising solutions, they are, at best, energy supplements, not viable alternatives due to their intermittent nature. In other words, when the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining, these renewable sources are ineffective.
Consequently, fossil fuels continue to dominate city grids, accounting for 80% of energy systems. So, as cities search for alternatives to accelerate the transition toward cost-effective, reliable, and sustainable energy, hydrogen emerges as a frontrunner in the pursuit of a decarbonized energy future.
The Benefits of Resilient Energy Systems with Hydrogen
Why is hydrogen already a better long-term solution than more traditional green alternatives?
In short, hydrogen's unique ability to function more like a fossil fuel than a traditional green alternative is a key factor in its suitability for building resilient energy systems.
Hydrogen—especially green and blue hydrogen—is a zero-emission fuel. When burnt, its primary byproduct is just water vapor.
Continuous Energy Production
As mentioned, one of the largest barriers to renewables is their intermittent nature. Unlike wind and solar, hydrogen isn’t seasonal, it can be produced around the clock at the exact moment of need. This can help ensure a stable energy supply during peak hours.
Along these lines, wind and solar energy can’t be efficiently stored. If there is excess energy generated during peak times, most of it will go to waste—either burnt off or degraded over time. Hydrogen, however, can be stored for long periods and in large quantities, making it a superior option for grid balancing.
Decarbonization of Hard-to-Abate Industries
Certain sectors operating within cities, such as heavy-duty transportation, long-haul transport, construction, and seasonal energy storage are much more difficult to decarbonize with only electricity. Hydrogen will be required to decarbonize in light of more costly options.
A major appeal of hydrogen is its versatility. Hydrogen is capable of being used in a variety of applications, including power generation, heating, and transportation. It’s adaptable and can be integrated into diverse energy systems. Similarly, hydrogen can be produced using renewable energy sources via electrolysis and pyrolysis.
Hydrogen energy can be further converted into other derivatives. As the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) notes:
“It can also be used to produce methanol, synthetic fuels, or even as a reducing agent to replace coal in iron production. Once it is converted to these commodities, the energy density is increased further, making long-distance transport and long-term storage cost-effective.”
Once more, conventional alternatives aren’t reliable backup energy sources, particularly during power outages or natural disasters. Hydrogen, on the other hand, is a viable backup energy source that can help support grid resilience.
Challenges and Obstacles to Implementing Hydrogen Energy Systems
While hydrogen is certainly promising, it remains an emerging technology. Naturally, implementing a hydrogen-based energy system is not without its fair share of challenges, which could hinder the fulfillment of its potential, including:
Compared to fossil fuels and combustion engines, both renewable hydrogen itself and fuel cells for storage tanks are more expensive to produce.
There’s a notable cost premium for an emission-free fuel substitute. And since there is not a hydrogen market, there tends to be a lack of competition and price transparency—both of which lead to higher prices.
But, as adoption increases and technological processes advance, prices will likely decrease over time.
Cities would need to invest in and build the necessary infrastructure, which is currently lacking, including hydrogen production facilities, refueling stations, and pipelines.
For such an undertaking, city leaders must lean heavily on the expertise and guidance of end-to-end energy solutions providers.
Public concerns over the safety of hydrogen’s flammability are, if ill-informed, still reasonable. However, many of these unfounded fears can be abated via public education and the implementation of rigorous safety measures, which is why, overall, the public favors hydrogen.
Currently, there may be regulations in place that limit the development of clean hydrogen, acting as a barrier to investment. Or, there may be vague standards and inconsistent policies that might hinder widespread adoption.
Governments and industry must work together to ensure that regulations aren’t pushing investment dollars away from an emissions-free solution.
Hydrogen-Based Energy Systems in Cities
On its own, hydrogen already possesses several tangible advantages. However, when compared to other energy sources, hydrogen also has the potential to address various shortcomings that are already present in modern energy grids, which is why several forward-thinking cities have already begun incorporating it into their energy and transport systems.
For instance, several major cities including Chicago, Vancouver, London, and Beijing have experimented with hydrogen-powered buses. And now, this year, Hydrogen-powered trains (hydrails) are making their global debut. According to Smithsonian Magazine:
“This summer, North America’s first zero-emission train will start running in Canada …The project is a triumph for North America, though European countries beat Canada to the punch: Germany started testing the world’s first hydrogen-powered passenger trains in 2018, going on to roll out a fleet in 2022. The German Coradia iLint trains, also made by Alstom, can reach speeds of 140 miles per hour. A single tank of hydrogen can last for more than 600 miles.”
As hydrogen technology continues to trend toward mass adoption, more and more solutions will become feasible for cities country-wide.
Hydrogen Is the Future of Resilient Energy Systems in Cities
If cities ever hope to live up to their sustainability commitments, hydrogen will play a key role, filling the gap that proposed alternatives like solar and wind simply can’t solve due to their inherent limitations. Hydrogen can address notable shortcomings in existing energy grids, such as the intermittency of renewable energy, energy storage, grid balancing, and grid resilience.
FASTECH is committed to ushering in this green revolution. As an end-to-end energy solutions provider, we’re experts in hydrogen testing & compliance, construction, maintenance, and consulting.
If your city is ready to transition toward a net-zero future, we can help turn that dream into reality. Contact us today to discover more about building resilient local energy systems with hydrogen.