A recent study commissioned by the eco-energy cooperative Green Planet Energy, conducted by the Reiner Lemoine Institute, explores the critical role of flexible green hydrogen production in achieving climate goals and ensuring a low-carbon future.
Green hydrogen, produced using renewable energy sources and water electrolysis, holds the promise of revolutionizing energy systems. It serves as a versatile, zero-emission alternative to carbon-containing fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Key applications of green hydrogen include steel production and air travel, where no sustainable substitutes currently exist. To meet ambitious climate goals set by governments worldwide, decarbonizing these sectors is imperative.
The heart of the matter lies in how green hydrogen is produced. The study underscores the importance of flexible operation of electrolyzers, the devices responsible for hydrogen production. Flexibility entails producing hydrogen when an abundance of cheap green electricity is available, ensuring the process is as environmentally friendly as possible. Conversely, inflexible operations involve electrolyzers running continuously throughout the year, consuming electricity from sources that might not be entirely green.
The study’s findings present a clear path for reducing emissions during hydrogen production. Rapid expansion of renewable energy sources is a prerequisite, and flexible hydrogen production must be adopted. The resulting green hydrogen can be deployed strategically in applications that can utilize it efficiently over time, such as basic chemistry and integration into natural gas networks, facilitating space heating.
However, it’s essential to strike a balance when using hydrogen as a substitute for fossil natural gas in the heating sector. Care must be taken to avoid hindering the transition to more efficient heat pumps, which could further delay the heat sector’s transformation.
To truly leverage the potential of green hydrogen in the energy transition, it must be produced in a climate-friendly manner. This aligns with the broader goal of emission reduction. The study suggests that by 2030, Germany could potentially generate up to 33 terawatt-hours (TWh) of green hydrogen if electrolyzers are operated flexibly. However, the demand for hydrogen exceeds this figure at 133 TWh. Flexibility in both production and application of hydrogen is essential for an efficient and low-emission transition.
The study has critical implications for national hydrogen strategies. Governments must ensure that hydrogen production aligns with the expansion of renewable energy sources. This calls for strict verification criteria to ensure the authenticity of green hydrogen. Loose regulations would risk enabling greenwashing, a practice where environmental claims are exaggerated or misleading.
The flexibility in operating electrolyzers with limited full-load hours is the pivot point during the transition to a low-emission, sustainable energy future. Every effort should be made to minimize emissions in the early stages of the journey towards climate neutrality in 2045.