Electrification Tussle II

This post continues from yesterday’s blog post.

There will be players who cannot electrify their processes, and they will need solutions. Most of them would be using natural gas running through the pipelines. And for them to decarbonize, they would need either a renewable form of natural gas, which is probably the most acceptable solution for them technically. For some of them, burning green hydrogen could potentially work as well, assuming they overcome the issues around the lower energy content of the hydrogen. Let’s consider again the drive to electrify. Using green hydrogen for these industries is equivalent to electrification because green hydrogen production is driven by renewable wind or solar power production. The notion is ultimately to shift the energy demand of these hard-to-abate industries back to the electricity grid, except through green hydrogen. Except, of course, the green hydrogen route is a very inefficient use of electricity because of poor conversion by electrolyzers and then coupled with the fact that more energy might be used to transport or store the hydrogen.

What I’m trying to point to here, is not that green hydrogen isn’t a viable solution – because in due course, with technological improvements, it definitely can and should be used. But in light of the electrification challenges I highlighted in part 1 (yesterday’s post), green hydrogen does not help alleviate the problem. It tends to complicate it and put even more stress on the electricity system when trying to green the grid. The mix of policy stances involving the heavy promotion of green hydrogen, the attempts to accelerate the reduction in gas use domestically, and setting aggressive renewable energy targets (really more like renewable electricity targets) for the grid emissions factor are all putting a lot of pressure on the electricity system while trying to keep electricity cost pressures under control.

Already mentioned in the earlier blog post is that natural gas resources can serve as part of the transition story. Now, there are concerns and worries about an addiction to fossil gas. After all, the economy might actually be addicted to it because it is a very lucrative export for Australia and so even as the country tries to reduce domestic use, it is unlikely to give it up as an export. And the fear is that the addiction would make it harder to decarbonise. This is why the other area for the government to direct its resources and develop policies that channel efforts in the right direction would be to promote biomethane production and displacement of fossil natural gas through the use of biomethane.

It is almost a no-brainer. Yet, there were concerns about the costs of biomethane while the more costly green hydrogen is being subsidised in all directions. There were further concerns about the limits of the resource potential of biomethane when the grid resources for green hydrogen production are even more scarce and expensive.

In providing my opinions, I have not given any figures but assumed that readers can find and discover for themselves the relative costs, and other challenges associated with how the overall policy mix and energy transition conversation is creating needless bottlenecks and distorting the orderliness of the energy transition. I suggest that we direct our efforts as an industry, economy, society and country in a more sensible, coherent, and directed manner to navigate the energy transition. The technically sensible approach is available and on the table, let’s set that as a destination first, and then slowly navigate the political minefield to get to it. This would likely produce better results than to be muddling through the technical solutions while trying to satisfy various political constituents and be none the wiser as to which destination we’re trying to get to.

Just an additional note to say that these entries are purely my personal opinions and do not reflect any views of my employers or any organisations I happen to be affiliated with.