Producing hydrogen cheaply and greenly is the challenge we’re taking on to exploit the most abundant element in the universe to decarbonize hard to abate sectors. To win this challenge, Enel has decided yet again to tap into the immense potential of renewable resources to try to produce hydrogen with zero carbon emissions.
Hydrogen: potential and limitations
The use of hydrogen in energy systems is of extreme importance for realizing the energy transition into a fully decarbonized economy. Currently, nearly all H2 production is exclusively for industrial use, and 98% of it comes from fossil fuels, creating more than 830 million tons of CO2 per year; that’s equivalent to the annual emissions of Italy, France and Holland combined.
Producing hydrogen via electrolysis – the process by which water molecules (H2O) are split into hydrogen and oxygen – makes it possible to eradicate the carbon footprint, as long as the electricity powering the process comes from renewable resources. For now, this process is very expensive and requires an enormous amount of electricity. Just think, to satisfy current hydrogen demand, according to a 2019 report issued by the International Energy Agency (IEA) called “The Future of Hydrogen”, the amount of electricity needed would be equal to the entire EU’s annual production (3,600 TWh/year).
Renewable energy for zero-emissions hydrogen
However, proliferation of renewables and increased production of electrolyzers with relative economies of scale could completely revolutionize the status quo. Renewable production of hydrogen could become competitive by 2030 thanks to greater availability of renewable energy and a fall in the costs of RER and electrolyzers.
Thanks to Enel, over the next few years, green hydrogen can take on a strategic role in energy systems. In fact, Enel is looking at projects that use renewable hydrogen as a key element to tackle the decarbonization of hard-to-abate industrial sectors like steel, chemical and oil refining. If renewable power and direct electrification can render most of the energy end uses carbon-free by 2050, green hydrogen can be the zero-emissions energy carrier to decarbonize the rest.