Coupling Power and Hydrogen Sector Pathways To Benefit Decarbonization
Governments and companies worldwide are increasing their investments in hydrogen research and development, indicating a growing recognition that hydrogen could play a significant role in meeting global energy system decarbonization goals. Since hydrogen is light, energy-dense, storable, and produces no direct carbon dioxide emissions at the point of use, this versatile energy carrier has the potential to be harnessed in a variety of ways in a future clean energy system.
Often considered in the context of grid-scale energy storage, hydrogen has garnered renewed interest, in part due to expectations that our future electric grid will be dominated by variable renewable energy (VRE) sources such as wind and solar, as well as decreasing costs for water electrolyzers — both of which could make clean, “green” hydrogen more cost-competitive with fossil-fuel-based production. But hydrogen’s versatility as a clean energy fuel also makes it an attractive option to meet energy demand and to open pathways for decarbonization in hard-to-abate sectors where direct electrification is difficult, such as transportation, buildings, and industry.
“We’ve seen a lot of progress and analysis around pathways to decarbonize electricity, but we may not be able to electrify all end uses. This means that just decarbonizing electricity supply is not sufficient, and we must develop other decarbonization strategies as well,” says Dharik Mallapragada, a research scientist at the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI). “Hydrogen is an interesting energy carrier to explore, but understanding the role for hydrogen requires us to study the interactions between the electricity system and a future hydrogen supply chain.”
In a recent paper published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, researchers from MIT and Shell present a framework to systematically study the role and impact of hydrogen-based technology pathways in a future low-carbon, integrated energy system, taking into account interactions with the electric grid and the spatio-temporal variations in energy demand and supply. The developed framework co-optimizes infrastructure investment and operation across the electricity and hydrogen supply chain under various emissions price scenarios. When applied to a Northeast U.S. case study, the researchers find this approach results in substantial benefits — in terms of costs and emissions reduction — as it takes advantage of hydrogen’s potential to provide the electricity system with a large flexible load when produced through electrolysis, while also enabling decarbonization of difficult-to-electrify, end-use sectors.