In an era when greener fuel solutions are becoming increasingly important to mitigate the impact of greenhouse gas-related impacts on climate, Green Hydrogen is one of them that is drawing attention.
The change is already here.
The world is rebounding from the blues of the Covid19 pandemic that has gripped the population since the end of 2019. As the worst part of the pandemic seems to be warding off, life is rolling back to normal.
With a large amount of pent up demand due to subdued activity in the lock-down or pandemic induced restrictions phase, the rise in production in the post-pandemic phase is remarkably leading to an increase in the use of coal and oil making 2021 experience the “second-largest annual increase in CO2 in history” to quote IEA’s report. This is a matter of concern as the average global temperature has already gone up by 1.10C from the pre-industrial age, which is showing its effect in terms of climate extremes.
To address the issue of climate change triggered by emissions the energy sector must come to the fore as three-fourths of the total emissions around the world are generated by the energy sector. This is quite challenging as the modern lifestyle is highly dependent on energy use and the expanding urban and industrial sectors in the developing nations are moving more and more towards an energy-intensive regime making evolution in clean technologies an imperative.
Investment in clean and renewable energy technology can provide enhanced opportunities for moving towards an emission-free era with the possibility of employment and income generation for the expanding world population.
The current heatwave raging across Northern India is being pointed out by climate experts as a dangerous signal of global warming. India is one of the countries which are going to bear the brunt of global warming with the unchecked emission of GHGs (greenhouse gases) though the country is responsible for only 4% of cumulative emissions and 7% of current global emissions.
There cannot be a choice between development and a clean environment for India or any developing country vested with the task of pulling up people under poverty, handling the issue of unemployment, malnourishment, low educational attainment and other such social and economic problems.
Channelizing development towards more people-centric and environment-oriented avenues is the need of the hour. A shift towards renewable energy, substituting fossil fuel-based energy sources, developing efficient mass public transport, and at the same time pressing the developed nations to cut emissions and allow the less developed countries to have their fair share of development by aiding them in their effort towards emission reduction and enrichment of the environment through financial and technological collaborations can help the world develop sustainably and equitably.
“We are on a fast track to climate disaster: Major cities underwater. Unprecedented heatwaves. Terrifying storms. Widespread water shortages. The extinction of a million species of plants and animals. This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies,”, Antonio Guterres in response to IPCC Report published in April 2022.
How much is the energy sector involved?
India has experienced a surge in energy demand in the last two decades which has seen a doubling of energy use in this period. Though per capita energy consumption and emissions in India are less than half of the world average, with a population size of more than 1.3 billion, India ranks third in the world in terms of energy consumption as reported in the India Energy Outlook, 2021. India is making concerted efforts in reducing emissions by introducing energy-efficient technology and encouraging renewable energy production and usage.
Currently, renewable energy (excluding hydro) constitutes 23.5% of the total installed capacity for power generation in India while hydroelectricity capacity constitutes 12.35% and thermal 55.43%. But renewable energy sources are only 10% of gross electricity generation in India while thermal generation is 71.87% of the total as per All India electricity Statistics General Review, 2021. India has taken up an ambitious target of 450 GW of solar power generation by 2030.
With solar power generation constituting only 4% of the total power generation in India at present, reaching this target will require ramping up solar power production at a rapid pace. This is an achievable target given that solar power production has attained impressive cost competitiveness. Intermittency in the solar power supply can be overcome through battery storage.
There are a number of bottlenecks in the path of attaining the solar power production target. Availability of land is an important one, added to that is the problem of power curtailment faced by the solar power producers. Though intermittency of power can be addressed through battery storage it also poses some environmental problems. Another issue to be addressed along with renewable energy production is clean mobility.
Though the transport sector accounts for 18% of total energy usage it is responsible for 86% of the CO2 emissions in India. Electric vehicles seem to provide emission-free mobility but when battery electric vehicles are charged with grid power which primarily consists of coal-fired thermal power overall emissions cannot be expected to be reduced. In this respect hydrogen as an energy carrier proves to be a plausible solution both for solar power production and clean mobility.
A case for Rooftop Solar PV and Green Hydrogen
India has vast stretches of land that receive scanty rainfall, termed an open natural ecosystem which is often classified as ‘wasteland’ and demarcated for utility-scale solar power installations. Such large scale projects tend to destroy the biodiversity of these natural ecosystems causing harm to the diverse species that these places are home to.
Environmentalists have voiced protests against the use of these ecosystems for large scale solar PV installations. In such cases rooftop solar installations, canal top solar photovoltaic installations, floating PV generations or even agrivoltaics, where degraded agricultural lands are used for deployment of solar panels, can be used to minimize the use of open natural ecosystems for solar PV generation.
Research has shown that it is possible to integrate a rooftop solar photovoltaic system (RTPV) with a power to the gas system that produces and stores green hydrogen. Such an integrated system has immense potential to solve a plethora of energy-related environmental problems in future. Solar power generated from the RTPV system during the day can be used to produce hydrogen and this hydrogen fuel cell system can be utilized in supplying power at night.
A study published in the “International Journal of Hydrogen Energy” by Seyed Ehsan Hosseini, Brayden Butler and Muzlan Abdul Wahid Hybrid shows that concentrated Photovoltaic Thermal Systems with Organic Rankine Cycle (CPVT-ORC) can generate and store the hydrogen required for use at night with 70% efficiency of the electrolyser.
Hydrogen or ‘green’ hydrogen produced from renewable energy can replace batteries as a storage option, it can be used as an energy carrier for clean mobility in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, hydrogen-enriched CNG or hydrogen-enriched ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles etc.
U.S. Department of Energy asserts that fuel cell electric vehicles can be fuelled in less than 4 minutes and have a driving range of 300 miles and do not have any harmful emissions. Research has also shown that alternatively fuelled hybrid electric vehicle fuel consumption can be decreased by 12.6% and emission of harmful gases by 14.33%. The use of both hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and battery electric vehicles should be incentivized for decarbonised road transport.
Power curtailment is a major hurdle that renewable energy generating units are facing in recent times in India. Curtailment refers to a situation where the power generated by a unit is not accepted in the grid or restricted. This situation leads to falling in plant output leading to low capacity utilization of the renewable energy plants. The decline in the capacity utilisation factor of the plants adversely affects investment possibility in the renewable energy sector. The extent of curtailment varies across plants. Some observers estimate this to be 1-5% for solar plants.
Some solar projects in Tamil Nadu have faced up to 100% curtailment even during peak summer months. This is in violation of the ‘must run’ status of renewable energy plants mandated by the Indian Electricity Grid Code, 2010 which requires the SLDCs to give priority to power generated from renewable sources while scheduling power supply in the grid.
A major reason for curtailment is the existence of a two-part tariff mechanism for thermal plants which requires a fixed amount to be paid even when the available plant is not scheduled. In such a situation also hydrogen storage provides an electrochemical method of energy storage as an environmentally efficient option.
A study by Mahsa Daraei, Pietro Elia Compana & Eva Thorin in the journal “Applied Energy” asserts that though hydrogen storage can decrease the capacity of renewable energy production by 23%, it reduces renewable energy curtailment by 87%. This is important in inducing investment in the renewable energy sector.
Research in this field also suggests that around 76% of power to the gas application are focused on the integration of their technology with small scale residential systems connected to the power grid. This is corroborated by other studies as well which assert that the P2H (power to hydrogen) system is capable of facilitating the transition to a renewable energy system by enabling the storage of energy. When power storage capability and characteristics of electrolysers are factored in, the P2H system can achieve demand flexibility to a considerable extent.
Hydrogen can be produced from biogas in an environment-friendly manner using slack lime to reduce CO2 emissions by 95% leaving calcium carbonate as a waste product which does not harm the environment. Green hydrogen can also be produced from off-shore wind power at a cost which is comparable to the cost of production of blue and grey hydrogen.
Cogeneration of Hydrogen from the hydroelectric power plants and its use for heating and transport purposes can result in additional profits. Several countries in Europe are initiating measures to adopt a green hydrogen strategy for their transition toward a low carbon society by 2050. Germany is a forerunner in this respect adopting the “German Hydrogen Strategy for Global Leadership in the Energy Transition”.
A step toward Green Hydrogen
India Energy Outlook 2021 estimates a 5% annual increase in electricity demand in India till 2040 when daily peak demand is expected to grow six times in this period. Three-fourths of capacity addition in India consists of Solar PV and wind power. The non-hydro renewable energy target will require greater flexibility of the power supply system, a well-functioning grid and adequate power storage capacity. The vision to move towards a gas-based economy can aim to harness India’s potential for low-carbon gases like biomethane and hydrogen.
Increasing energy needs of a developing economy paired with environmental commitments open up possibilities for the development of green hydrogen production in India that can offer the promise of a clean form of energy storage both for power supply to households and industries and also as fuel for the transport sector. India has a vast potential for renewable energy that can be used for the production of green hydrogen.
The National Hydrogen Mission launched in India on 15th August 2021 aims at making India a Green Hydrogen hub to meet the climate targets. Accordingly, a Green Hydrogen Policy has been framed which envisages measures like waiver of transmission charges for the producers of green hydrogen/green ammonia for a period of 25 years, allotment of lands in renewable energy parks for the production of green hydrogen/green ammonia, a proposal for setting up of manufacturing zones for green hydrogen production and such others.
A major portion of India’s renewable energy potential consists of solar energy. According to the National Institute of Solar Energy India has a solar potential of about 748 GW if 3% of wasteland can be utilized for solar power production.
Though solar capacity in India has increased by 18 times in the last 6 years from 2.6 GW in 2014 to 48.33 GW in 2021(47 GW on-grid capacity and 1.33 GW off-grid capacity) bringing India to the global 5th position in solar power deployment, much remains to be done to incentivize solar power production along with strengthening the existing policies of Renewable Purchase Obligations, “Must Run’ status, making it mandatory for new construction to have RTPV provisions, tax-free solar bonds, subsidies for RTPV installations etc.
With rising fuel prices demands for EVs are also expected to rise. This is the right time to incentivize the use of hydrogen-powered vehicles and encourage the installation of RTPV so that the EVS can be charged from residences and offices.
The recent guidelines for electric vehicle charging infrastructure by the Ministry of Power allow owners of EVs to charging their vehicles from their office or house using their existing power connections. If such charging is done from an RTPV system both the local emissions from vehicles and global emissions from thermal generations can be reduced.
In addition to that low cost and efficient technology for green hydrogen production from RTPVs can be developed to provide extra impetus to hydrogen run vehicles. Awareness should also be spread among citizens about the benefits of EVs powered by RTPVs which can contribute to the efforts to reduce emissions and prevent the warming of the globe to increase further.
(Debalina Saha is a researcher in the field of Energy and Environmental Economics. She is associated with a journal publishing house.)
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