Climate change: Utility scheme projects that combine hydrogen with natural gas to curb emissions could reap some climate benefits from their efforts and raise consumer electricity bills, according to a new US study.
According to a report released Tuesday by San Francisco-based energy policy think tank Energy Innovation, mixing hydrogen and gas for buildings and power generation is highly inefficient, and research shows that greenhouse gases do little to reduce emissions.
“Given the growing momentum and excitement of hydrogen, state utility regulators and policymakers must be extremely cautious and prudent about hydrogen blending proposals and avoid costly deaths on the road to a decarbonized future,” the report said.
Natural gas and electric utilities have proposed at least 26 hydrogen projects since 2020 to reduce their environmental footprint. Companies see clean-burning hydrogen as a climate-friendly alternative to long-term use of natural gas. Gas utilities in particular are looking for ways to decarbonize operations by mixing hydrogen into their pipeline networks and to preserve or reuse existing infrastructure.
Yet the use of hydrogen in buildings poses “major challenges and safety hazards” to existing natural gas systems because of the chemical differences between the primary components of natural gas, hydrogen and methane, according to the report. Hydrogen cannot be easily replaced with methane for heating or use in household appliances without spending more than 5% to 20% with natural gas, and low concentrations increase nitrogen oxide contamination, which is harmful to the lungs, and reduce emissions.
Hydrogen-mixing projects may also fail or delay more viable and cost-effective carbon-cutting strategies, such as electrifying homes and buildings with clean energy, according to the study.
“Direct electrification of homes and buildings is the easiest way to decarbonize the building sector, save consumers money and improve public health,” said Sarah Baldwin, director of electrification policy at Energy Innovation and one of the authors of the report.