Is Hydrogen the Answer to Reaching Net-zero—Apparently, it’s not!

The following was sent to me by a contact with the “knowledge, skills sets and experience to highlight the fallacies of pushing the green hydrogen agenda” and it’s related to the concepts of my prior articles about “energy storage”. NB: the knowledge he displays in the following are beyond the scope of yours truly!

Text from the contact!

“Hi Parker

Converting “excess” electrical generation by electrolysers (e.g. as built by Hydrogen Optimized in Owen Sound), will permit wind generators (like Enbridge, K2 Wind, etc.) to operate at maximum possible output even when the electrical demand is low (like at night), so that the proponents (like Enbridge at their “Power to Gas” pilot plant in Markham, or Calsun at their proposed plant at the former Bluewater Youth Detention Centre) can make BIG money producing “green” hydrogen, thereby ensuring lots of Government (i.e taxpayer) support.  

The wind generators (like Enbridge) will be able to be paid full price for their power, approximately $135 a MWh or so, instead of the somewhat reduced rate paid for curtailed power. However, they will be able to buy the surplus at about $0 to $10 a MWh, to produce hydrogen, to add to their distribution system, so when electrical demand is high, they can sell it to natural gas generators to produce power to sell at maybe $200 a MWh.  Yes, they certainly win.  

The consumer, well, let’s see. We’ll pay $135 for the bought wind power, sell it for $10, and then buy it again at $200, so the consumer cost is maybe $125 + $ 200 = $325 a MWh.  (About 4 x the price paid for nuclear generated power in Ontario).  The more surplus we create, the more we’ll be able to sell at low price, and buy back at high price, so the cost for us will go up even more.

Winners = Enbridge, Hydrogen Optimized, Carlsun, and the Government policy hacks who want a hydrogen economy.  

Losers = those who live near wind farms (present and future, as there will be more justified), the electrical consumers, and taxpayers.

You can do a google search for Forbes March, 29, 2022 for their article, “Gas Utilities are Promoting Hydrogen, but it could be a dead end for consumers and the climate.”  Admittedly it is a biased article (every writer has their agenda) and in this case the writer’s agenda is that full electrification of the economy is better for the environment than burning natural gas.

Some highlights from the article, and the logical extension from them:

  • 26 projects to add hydrogen to natural gas lines have been proposed across 12 states since 2020  (so, nearly everybody is doing it!).
  • BUT, the blend can only be from 5% to 20% hydrogen in the natural gas lines  (elsewhere I read 7% max) as consumer appliances can only safely burn a blend up to that concentration.
  • It’s not clear what adding hydrogen to the natural gas lines at the Bluewater Detention Centre will mean to % hydrogen in the lines locally, but the amount added will probably not be huge.
  • Burning hydrogen (H2) produces less energy than natural gas (methane, or CH4) so a 20% blend would reduce greenhouse gas emissions only 6% to 7% as you lose energy in electrolysis.
  • price of green hydrogen will raise price of the blended fuel 2 to 4X above standard natural gas (good for Enbridge, bad for the consumer).
  • burning hydrogen produces water vapour (H2O), a more potent green house gas than CO2, but its residency in the atmosphere is less than CO2, so it is considered to have less impact.  Burning methane (CH4) produces CO2, H2O, and nitrous oxide NOX.  The results are complicated by the fact that methane (natural gas) leaks have an effect some 80X higher than CO2, but it has a less residency time in the atmosphere, so the overall result is considered to be only 25X as much.  NOX has a higher impact yet.  Let’s just say the overall impact of burning H2 is not zero, but it’s probably slightly better than burning CH4.

So is it realistic to consider we’ll have much impact on the environment by producing “green hydrogen”?

in 2020 Ontario’s energy usage was: (figures from Canada Energy Regulator – Provincial Energy Profile), converting all data to Peta Joules for equivalency comparison).

  • 1435 Peta Joules from refined petroleum (gasoline and diesel mostly)
  • 935 Peta Joules from natural gas
  • 514 Peta Joules from electricity (58% nuclear, 24% hydro, 9% gas, 8% wind, <1% solar, < 1% biofuel)
  • 37 Peta Joules from biofuels (wood mostly)
  • 127 Peta Joules from other fuels (like coal & coke)

From the above, we see that in 2020, less than 1.5% of Ontario’s total energy consumption came from wind and solar.  It gives a rough idea of the feasibility of moving all of Ontario “off oil and gas” to all “renewable sourced electricity” by 2050.

So, if we could convert 5% of the natural gas in the distribution system to hydrogen, that would be about 47 Peta Joules, or if we assume 15% loss in the conversion, needing 54 Peta Joules of electricity (more than 1/3 of the total electricity produced).  Let’s just say that’s unlikely.

In passing, let’s just say the probability of converting all new vehicles bought in Canada by 2035 to electrical vehicles, or vehicles powered by hydrogen, to convert that 1435 Peta Joules that come from petrochemicals of gas and oil as called for by federal law is … well remote.  Does anyone ever consider these things before passing laws?  Does not appear so!

The Globe and Mail published an interesting article (attached below) Nov. 25, 2022, noting,that while 72% of all new cars in Norway are electric vehicles, oil consumption in the country hasn’t changed.”

That should be enough numbers to set your heads spinning.  Apologies, but every now and then a dose of reality is needed.

Let’s conclude that the governments are all “hell bent” on producing hydrogen and keep telling us it will make a BIG difference in climate change.  Unh- unh,  T’ain’t; gonna happen, but what WILL happen is that costs for consumers will go up drastically, the results will be minimal, and certain investors will become VERY rich.”

Author: parkergallantenergyperspectivesblog

Retired international banker.

11 thoughts on “Is Hydrogen the Answer to Reaching Net-zero—Apparently, it’s not!”

  1. Adding hydrogen to natural gas is yet another green energy boondoggle just like adding ethanol to gasoline. Thx to the author and Parker for sharing this. I would clarify, however, that water vapour (H2O) is the most important greenhouse gas responsible for about 90% of energy absorption input atmosphere and is ignored in speculative, doomsday computer models. While CO2 is measured around 421 parts million in our atmosphere, methane is 1.7 parts per million or merely 0.00017% Water vapor, the most ubiquitous GHG is measured as a percentage of the atmosphere. Yes, on a per molecule basis CH4 is a 20 times more effective IR absorber than CO2 in the 3.3 & 7.5 micron IR absorption bands. However, both of the CH4 absorption bands occur at wavelengths where H2O is already absorbing substantially. Hence, any radiation that CH4 might absorb has already been absorbed by H2O. The ratio of the percentages of water to methane is such that the effects of CH4 are completely masked by H2O. The amount of CH4 must increase 100-fold to make it comparable to H2O.
    Because of that, methane is irrelevant as a greenhouse gas. The high per-molecule absorption cross section of CH4 makes no difference at all in our real atmosphere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WRT to your H2O assertions, you must know that water vapour only remains in the atmosphere up to saturation levels and returns to Terra firma as rain. Thus the addition of water vapour is a red herring in any global warming scenario.

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      1. Well, to a point that’s true. Relative humidity can’t exceed the dew point except in certain super-saturated conditions. So yes, it will fall out as rain. But if the atmosphere is made warmer for any reason, it can hold more water vapour before it reaches the dew point at that higher temperature. The greater content of water will augment the greenhouse effect. This is the water-vapour positive feedback the enviros worry about. How big it is or how important it is and to what extent it is mitigated by negative feedback I do not know. Does higher water content in hot air produce more or fewer clouds than lower water content in cool air? But you can’t dismiss H2O as just a red herring.

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  2. Here is some information about hydrogen from a friend who is a pipeline engineer:

    When discussing hydrogen, the main problem with it is often overlooked. Hydrogen systems leak because the small hydrogen molecule can get through seals and valves that contain other gasses with larger molecules such as methane. It also seeps through the wall of plastic pipe used in gas distribution. It takes a lot of energy to compress hydrogen. Therefore, hydrogen cannot economically or safely be transported by existing pipelines or distributed by existing gas distribution systems.

    Unless new pipelines and distribution systems are built, hydrogen will have to be transported by railway tank cars or by tanker trucks or delivered in compressed gas bottles. Hydrogen is an extremely explosive gas with a very wide explosive range of 4% by volume in air to 75%. By comparison methane, the main constituent of natural gas has a much narrower explosive range from 4.4% to 16.4%. This means that hydrogen is much more likely to explode when in contact with air. Hydrogen use by the general public as a fuel for home heating or transportation, if it ever happens, is likely to result in tragic home and vehicle explosions.

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  3. This looks something like the ‘food to fuel’ ethanol scam. Plant corn, fertilize, harvest and deliver to ethanol processor then to refinery to be blended. Doesn’t give good mpg and is hard on engines.

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  4. >”Burning hydrogen (H2) produces less energy than natural gas (methane, or CH4) . . .”

    This is true but it needs to be explained further so the enviros don’t descend on you. It’s true if you are talking in terms of volume, which you are if you are distributing and selling gas mixtures by pipeline. On a mass basis, a kilogram of hydrogen yields more energy than a kg of methane, but since it is only one-eighth as dense, you can’t squeeze as much mass into a litre of pipeline space for a given pressure compared to methane. It will therefore yield less heat than the volume of methane it displaces from the pipeline contents.

    This is the same drawback that makes it impractical to fuel transportation vehicles with hydrogen. To contain a big enough mass of hydrogen to give reasonable range (especially in aircraft) you need huge tanks or else you have to compress it (dangerous, heavy tanks) or liquify it (and keep it super cold during use.) And leaks from any of these tanks or if your pilot light goes out are dangerous in an enclosed space. (In the open air, the light hydrogen just floats away into outer space, which is why we don’t have any in the atmosphere.)

    Liked by 1 person

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