Green hydrogen economically viable by 2035, researchers claim

Cheaper electrolysers, more frequent periods of low- or zero-cost renewable-produced electricity, and the penalisation of carbon emissions will make the use of carbon-free hydrogen more economically viable, according to a new study.

A demonstration project designed to create hydrogen from wind power has been launched in Yokohama (pic credit: Yoshinori Ueda/Japan Wind Power Association)

Using electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind power to split water through electrolysis to produce hydrogen creates a carbon-free, storable source of power, researchers at DNV GL explained.

It can then be stored to help balance supply and demand of energy.

The researchers expect production of hydrogen from surplus renewable electricity will be cost-competitive with natural gas-based hydrogen before 2035.

Hydrogen storage is unlikely to investors' first choice for technological solutions that make use of surplus renewable energy, the researchers predict.

Conversion into heat or battery storage are likely to be cost-competitive at an early date, DNV GL stated.

The forecasted cost-competitive date of 2035 is also conservative compared to other analyses.

In a separate study in April 2018, German think thank Energy Brainpool claimed hydrogen produced by surplus wind and solar energy could be cheaper than natural gas as an energy source itself by the 2030s.

"The prospect of delivering affordable hydrogen applications in the mid-term future provides a very encouraging signal to accelerate the global energy transition," said Lucy Craig, vice president of technology and innovation at DNV GL Energy.

"Our research demonstrates that green hydrogen provides an optimal use for surplus electricity, which we expect to see in the years to come due to the rapid rise of renewable energy.

"In combination with electrolysis, hydrogen proves to be an economically feasible solution for the decarbonisation of the heat and storage sector."

The increasing economic feasibility of renewables-generated hydrogen will be driven by three key developments, DNV GL stated:

The cost of electrolysers will go down. Advances in technological understanding and economies of scale will cause costs to fall, the researchers forecast;

Time periods when low- or zero-cost prices for electricity generated by renewable sources are available will increase. As variable, renewable energy sources achieve greater penetration on the grid, they will more frequently generate a surplus of available energy. Currently, excess production of variable energy sources is most commonly curtailed as these sources are not dispatchable. However, as surplus availability becomes more frequent, it will become more economically viable to store electricity as hydrogen for dispatch;

Carbon emissions will be penalised. DNV GL expects an introduction of carbon tax and incentives for low-carbon solutions as industries are weaned off fossil fuels. This will increase costs for solutions such as natural gas-based hydrogen and lower costs for renewable-generated hydrogen.

There are already several projects being developed to use renewable energy in electrolysis to split water into oxygen and hydrogen:

German grid operators Amprion and Open Grid Europe want to build a 100MW power-to-gas plant capable of converting renewable energy output into hydrogen. The ‘Hybridge’ project is planned for Lower Saxony, north-west Germany, and could be operational by 2023;

Tennet, Gasunie Deutschland and Tyssengas, meanwhile, intend to convert output from offshore wind projects in the North Sea to either hydrogen or methane. They plan to start connecting their Element One pilot project, also in Lower Saxony, to the grid in 2022;

Developer Parkwind, green energy producer Eoly and gas transmission system operator Fluxys have announced vague plans for an industrial-scale renewable energy-to-hydrogen project. It would be built in Belgium, but no timeline has been announced for the project;

And a demonstration project designed to create hydrogen from wind power was launched in Yokohama, Japan, and has been running since 2017.