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Utilities hyping hydrogen’s promise risk hitting ‘dead ends’ in climate fight

29 March 2022 - 13:29 By Mark Chediak
Report says blending hydrogen with natural gas does little to curb emissions.
Report says blending hydrogen with natural gas does little to curb emissions.
Image: Bloomberg

Utilities planning projects that blend hydrogen with natural gas to curb emissions may find their efforts yield few climate benefits and trigger higher electricity bills for customers, according to a new US study.

Research shows that mixing hydrogen and gas for use in buildings and power generation is highly inefficient and does little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,  according to a report released Tuesday by Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based energy policy think-tank.

“In the face of growing momentum and enthusiasm for hydrogen, state utility regulators and policymakers should be highly scrupulous and discerning of hydrogen blending proposals and avoid costly dead ends on the road to a decarbonised future,” the report said. 

Natural gas and electric utilities have proposed at least 26 hydrogen projects since 2020 to reduce their environmental footprint. The companies see clean-burning hydrogen as a potential climate-friendly alternative to using natural gas over the long run. Gas utilities, in particular are looking at blending hydrogen into their pipeline networks as way to decarbonise operations and preserve or repurpose existing infrastructure. 

Yet using hydrogen in buildings creates “major challenges and safety risks” throughout existing natural gas systems because of the chemical differences between hydrogen and methane, the primary component of natural gas, according to the report. Hydrogen can’t be readily swapped for methane for use in heating or household appliances above a 5% to 20% blend with natural gas without enormous cost, and low blends achieve few emissions reductions while increasing lung-damaging nitrogen oxide pollution.

Hydrogen-blending projects also might thwart or delay more viable and cost-effective carbon-cutting strategies, such as electrifying homes and buildings with clean power, according to the study.

“Direct electrification of homes and buildings is the most straightforward way to decarbonise the building sector, save consumers money and improve public health,” said Sara Baldwin, electrification policy director at Energy Innovation, and one of the report’s authors.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com


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