Want to Waste a Small Fortune? Try Turning Wind & Solar Power Into Hydrogen Gas

Want to make a small fortune? Then start with a very large one and use it to turn wind and solar power into hydrogen gas.

Renewables obsessed governments around the world are now talking up hydrogen gas as if they’d just discovered the secret plans for a perpetual motion machine. It takes a staggering degree of ignorance – not least of the laws of physics and economics – to believe that converting chaotically intermittent wind and solar into hydrogen gas makes sense.

The majority of hydrogen available on the market (around 95%) is produced from fossil fuels by steam reforming or partial oxidation of methane and coal gasification with only a tiny fraction produced by way of biomass gasification or the electrolysis of water or solar thermochemistry.

Steam-methane reforming, the current leading technology for producing hydrogen in large quantities, extracts hydrogen from methane, usually in the form of natural gas; the process releases carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. Which, of course, doesn’t wash with the climate cult.

Another method of creating hydrogen is electrolysis, which involves chewing up enormous volumes electricity that gets passed through a volume of water to separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The big plus attached to this method is said to be that burning hydrogen gas does not release carbon dioxide gas.

Renewable energy rent seekers have seized on the concept of producing hydrogen gas using wind and solar as a way of converting useless, unpredictable and unreliable electricity into something that can be used as and when consumers need it; rather than something that depends on the whims of mother nature.

If producing industrial volumes of hydrogen using electricity were even vaguely economic, then the obvious way of doing so would be to use coal-fired power; the cheapest and most reliable power source, of all.

But that’s not the point and purpose of the great hydrogen hoax. This is about corporate greed and rent seeking.

The rules of physics (not least thermodynamics) means that, whatever the power source, more energy will be expended than will ever be returned from the process of turning electricity into hydrogen gas, storing and distributing it. Which means it will not result in a net energy benefit.

The storage and distribution of hydrogen gas is not without its challenges. Attempting to contain the gas in large volumes comes with the threat of industrial scale explosions, thanks to its the low ignition point and highly combustible nature, and also because it tends to leak easily from tanks. More than a few hydrogen storage facilities and filling stations have exploded – as to which, see below the image from Norway where one went up with one hell of a bang.

But, that’s not the concern of this post. Instead, with the help of Paul Homewood, we’ll take a look at the ludicrous cost of producing hydrogen using wind and solar power generated electricity.

Hydrogen Supply Evidence Base–BEIS
Not a Lot of People Know That
Paul Homewood
19 March 2021

I mentioned my FOI to the BEIS the other day, asking for more detail on hydrogen costs. This was what they sent me:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hydrogen-supply-chain-evidence-base

I have selected three pages regarding electrolysis:

Beginning with the capital costs on the first page, and assuming the PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane), which I believe is the most likely system, base costs currently are £750/KW. To put this figure into perspective, Boris 10-point plan calls for 5 GW of hydrogen production capacity by 2030. CAPEX using PEM would be £3.7bn. (As we shall see later, operating costs will be more than the total cost of natural gas, so this capital spend will be money down the drain.)

Capacity of 5 GW would produce 42 TWh of hydrogen (@96% load). UK’s total primary energy consumption is 2320 TWh, so the new hydrogen capacity would be tiny in comparison. To build enough to supply a tenth of our energy needs, say, would cost about £20bn, though costs would be expected to come down with economies of scale. (These figures of course don’t include storage or distribution costs.)

We are also given the electrical efficiency, which is 55 KW per kg of hydrogen currently. The energy density of hydrogen, however, is 33.3 Kwh per kg, which means that the electrolysis process only works at 60% efficiency. In other words, 40% of the energy input is wasted.

Moving onto the costed example, they look at a standalone wind farm. This has the advantage of not paying for electricity distribution, but the disadvantage of intermittent operation. Note that this example is based on the lower 2025 CAPEX costs.

We know from the first table that you need 52 KWh to produce 1 KG of hydrogen (2025 assumptions). Assuming wind power costs of £50/MWh, electricity input would cost £2.60/kg. This translates to £78.08/MWh.

To that we can add:

  • Fixed OPEX for PEM = £914,000 pa. Annual output of hydrogen is 87600 MWh = £10.43/MWh
  • Variable OPEX = £0.0077/KWH = £7.70.MWh
  • Storage = £255,000 pa = £2.91/MWh

In total then, the operating costs of hydrogen work out at £99.12/MWh. This does not include CAPEX. When this is added in, according to Element Energy, the total cost rises to £137/MWh

We can compare this with the price of gas:

The current wholesale price of natural gas is around 40p therm. The conversion rate of 29.3 KWh per therm means a price of £13.60/MWh. The cost of hydrogen via electrolysis therefore will be ten times as much as gas. As I already pointed out, even the operational costs, excl CAPEX, are much greater.

Finally, let’s compare all of this with what the CCC estimated for steam reforming costs:

Put simply, hydrogen made via electrolysis costs about three times as much as steam reforming, which itself is triple the cost of gas.

None of this should in any way be surprising. We know that electricity costs much more than gas. We also now know that you throw away nearly half of the electricity used in electrolysis, and also have to spend money building and running electrolysis plants.

Yet some people still think hydrogen is a good idea!!
Not a Lot of People Know That

Well, it seemed like a good idea… until physics caught up with it!

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April 12, 2021 at 02:30AM

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