potential integration of hydrogen into the fossil fuel economy
Source: US Department of Energy, Hydrogen Strategy: Enabling a Low-Carbon Economy (Figure 1)
The Virginia Clean Energy Act, passed by the General Assembly in 2020, mandated that Dominion Energy provide carbon-neutral electricity by 2045 and Appalachian Power by 2050. That mandate did not require the utilities to abandon their investment in power plants fueled by natural gas, or guarantee that the pipelines that transport natural gas would become worthless.
Natural gas is one fuel that could be used to provide carbon-neutral electricity by splitting the molecules to create hydrogen and carbon dioxide. If the carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere, the hydrogen would be "gray." If the Co(sub>2 was captured and sequestered, the hydrogen would be "blue." It may be possible to use chemical reactions to convert natural gas into hydrogen and elemental carbon, generating no greenhouse gases that would increase global warming.
A third version of hydrogen, "green," could be created by using renewable energy to separate water molecules (H2o) via electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen.1
In 2021, Lazard calculated that a gas peaking plant could generate electricity over its lifetime, the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), for $55-74 per megawatt-hpour. Using blue hydrogen would raise the cost to $89 per megawatt-hour. Using green hydrogen would increase the cost further to a projected $129 per megawatt-hour, exceeding even the cost of the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project at $87 per megawatt-hour.2
In 2020, Mitsubishi Power Americas announced plans to build three natural gas power plants designed to switch to hydrogen, when that fuel became available. One of the plants was planned for the 1,600 megawatt Chickahominy Power Station in Charles City County, which anticipated using natural gas as its initial fuel. However, plans for that facility were cancelled in 2022.3
demand for hydrogen in 2035 was predicted to be concentrated in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads
Source: US Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Hydrogen Demand and Resource Analysis
Hydrogen offers a way to store energy, comparable to a battery. In 2022, the Federal government provided a $500 million loan to an Advanced Clean Energy Storage project in Utah. The project planned to create hydrogen by electrolysis of water, using excess electricity generated by wind and solar facilities during times of low demand. The hydrogen could be retrieved from underground salt domes when demand increased and burned in gas turbines.
The project included replacing a coal-fired power plant with a power plant that was fueled by natural gas. Initially, all electricity would be produced from burning natural gas. As hydrogen became available, it would be blended into the natural gas and be 30% of the mixture. By 2045, the plant would burn 100% green hydrogen.4
manufacturing and storing hydrogen addressed the seasonal imbalance between demand and electricity generation from renewable sources
Source: Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Intermountain Power Project SITLA Board Meeting, February 17, 2022
Hydrogen also had the potential to replace gasoline and diesel used to power vehicles on highways. That vision required electrolyzing water to produce green hydrogen, plus the creation of hydrogen fueling stations to replace gas stations. In comparison to electricity-based vehicles, hydrogen is a very inefficient alternative:5
One possibility is for vehicles to use fuel cells to recombine the hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, generating just water vapor and no carbon dioxide emissions. However, vehicles would still require a fueling station to resupply the hydrogen. In 2022, there were no hydrogen fueling stations in Virginia.6
in 2022, the only hydrogen fueling stations in North America were in California and Canada
Source: US Department of Energy, Hydrogen Fueling Station Locations
Virginia had few proposed hydrogen refueling stations along major interstates
Source: US Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Hydrogen Resource Data, Tools, and Maps