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Dedicated clean hydrogen production likely has a limited role in power sector decarbonization, finds CATF report 

July 4, 2024 Work Area: Zero-Carbon Fuels

Clean Air Task Force analyzed the plausibility of clean hydrogen use in the power sector and found that dedicated clean hydrogen production and use, in many cases, is a costly and inefficient decarbonization strategy. Meanwhile, using electrolytic hydrogen as a storage fuel to balance excess surplus clean electricity could have some applications, but alternative strategies that minimize the need for long-duration storage, such as deploying clean firm generation like geothermal or nuclear, would likely be more cost effective. 

“Interest in using hydrogen to decarbonize power systems has skyrocketed, specifically as a perceived ‘clean’ replacement for natural gas power plants,” said Ghassan Wakim, Hydrogen Technology Director at CATF. “The superficial logic is simple: replace a polluting fuel with one that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, the inefficiency of hydrogen production means that it either amplifies upstream natural gas emissions or diverts clean electricity that could directly decarbonize the grid instead. After a realistic assessment of clean hydrogen’s potential role in power sector decarbonization, this report finds that clean hydrogen should be prioritized for decarbonizing heavy transportation and industry, not for electricity generation.” 

The report, Hydrogen in the Power Sector: Limited Prospects in a Decarbonized Electric Grid, examines critical feasibility questions related to producing and using clean hydrogen for electricity generation locally. The report’s key findings include: 

  • Substantial infrastructure investments in storage and transmission will likely be required to enable any future role for hydrogen in the power sector. 
  • Electrolytic hydrogen made from dedicated renewable resources represents a trade-off: instead of creating hydrogen, those renewables could decarbonize the grid; therefore, electrolytic hydrogen could delay grid decarbonization unless the grid is already fully decarbonized. 
  • When a power plant burns hydrogen produced from natural gas with carbon capture, the power plant’s overall emissions fall between 20% and 73% relative to an unabated plant. The range reflects the impacts of upstream emissions associated with the natural gas supply chain.  While burning hydrogen does not emit carbon dioxide from the power plant’s stack, the carbon dioxide and methane related to producing and transporting natural gas to produce hydrogen is significant. 
  • Electrolytic hydrogen produced from surplus electricity in a largely decarbonized grid can play a role in grid balancing as a form of long-duration energy storage (LDES). However, where possible, an evidence-based approach should examine the entire power system, evaluate alternatives, and optimize for cost, reliability, community impact, and land-use needs. This could reduce hydrogen use by identifying opportunities for more clean firm power resources, avoiding inefficient hydrogen storage deployment. 
  • The levelized cost of storage via electrolytic hydrogen exceeds that of other options such as pumped storage hydropower (PSH) and battery storage, though the latter option is largely limited to a few hours of storage.  
  • The lifecycle carbon abatement cost of electrolytic hydrogen produced surplus clean electricity is estimated at USD 360 per tonne of CO2e while that of hydrogen from natural gas and carbon capture is estimated at USD 450 per tonne of CO2e. 

The report also makes several recommendations for approaching power sector decarbonization including: 

  • Evaluating the impact of power sector decarbonization on total system costs and on the utility tariffs that retail, commercial, and industrial customers will end up paying. 
  • Following an evidence-based approach to examine the merits and costs of using hydrogen for long-duration energy storage in the context of a largely decarbonized grid, and evaluate alternative strategies to minimize the need for LDES via clean firm technologies such as geothermal, nuclear, and carbon capture 

Lisez le rapport ici pour une description détaillée des méthodes de recherche et des résultats. Pour en savoir plus sur les travaux de CATFdans ce domaine, consultez notre page d'accueil

Contact presse

Steve Reyes, responsable de la communication, CATF, [email protected], +1 562-916-6463

À propos de Clean Air Task Force 

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is a global nonprofit organization working to safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid development and deployment of low-carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies. With more than 25 years of internationally recognized expertise on climate policy and a fierce commitment to exploring all potential solutions, CATF is a pragmatic, non-ideological advocacy group with the bold ideas needed to address climate change. CATF has offices in Boston, Washington D.C., and Brussels, with staff working virtually around the world. Visit and follow @cleanaircatf.

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