Enel Green Power is betting on green hydrogen to speed up the energy transition
“I believe that water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable.” Jules Verne wrote this in his novel “The Mysterious Island”, back in 1875. 145 years later, the “vision” of one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time is becoming a reality.
Hydrogen is now playing a crucial role in the energy transition process and can provide a valuable contribution to the decarbonization of energy-intensive industries: chemical, aviation, maritime transport, heavy transport, etc.. But for it to become a fundamental vector for a more sustainable energy future, electrolysis – that is, the process through which the water molecule (H2O) splits into its two components, hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (1/2 O2) – must be powered by renewable energy.
The Enel Group is ready to accept this challenge and test out zero-emissions hydrogen production, throughout the value chain, betting once again on the enormous potential of renewable sources.
The key to full decarbonization
According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) study “The Future of Hydrogen”, hydrogen production currently takes place almost entirely using fossil fuels, causing the emission of 830 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, equal to the total production of the United Kingdom and Indonesia.
Only by producing with renewable sources, together with an adequate regulatory framework, will we be able to eliminate the carbon footprint of hydrogen and allow it to speed up the process of the energy transition.
For Enel, green hydrogen is a keystone for truly sustainable development and fits perfectly into the Group’s vision of sustainability: aiming at, on one hand, decarbonization through the growth of renewable energy and the closure of coal plants and, on the other, the electrification of end consumption.
In line with the Group’s Strategic Plan, which calls for us to become a zero emission company by 2050, Enel Green Power is working to create a series of hybrid power plants composed of renewable systems (solar and wind) paired with electrolyzers – structures that, using electricity, divide water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen – to produce green hydrogen, which will then be sold to off-taker clients for the decarbonization of their processes. This pipeline includes the possibility of installing electrolyzers in our existing photovoltaic and wind plants, for example, in Chile, the United States and Spain, with vast renewable potential and favorable regulatory conditions.
Green Hydrogen: where are we now?
According to data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), it is expected that, by 2050, 6% of the world's end energy consumption could be linked to hydrogen. Unlike other fuels with a strong impact on our planet, hydrogen has a very high energy capacity. Just think that, by weight, it contains almost three times the energy content of natural gas, and its combustion does not involve any CO2 emissions, generating only water vapor.
Hydrogen presents a wide range of potential applications. Not only can it be used as a “clean” fuel, but it can also boost the growth of green energy. A solar or wind plant combined with an electrolyzer can provide grid services similar to those of a renewable plant combined with a battery. With the increased spread of renewables, flexible generation will be necessary and a renewable plant combined with an electrolyzer, besides producing hydrogen, is much more flexible than an autonomous plant.
Although it’s not an alternative to electrification, which remains the most cost-effective and simple way to decarbonize large portions of total end energy consumption, green hydrogen is a complement to this process, and one of the most promising, affordable and sustainable energy solutions to lower the emissions of hard to abate industries. To achieve climate neutrality by 2050, the decarbonization of industries that depend on fossil fuels is what will really make a difference.
Also, as long as it is produced within a nation’s borders, green hydrogen can reduce a country’s dependency on imported fossil fuels. With the creation of a new value chain, it can lead to positive social impacts in the form of new job opportunities.
There are still open questions about the large amount of energy used in the production of renewable hydrogen, the availability of large-scale storage technologies and the high cost of transport. But the spread of renewables, the increased production of electrolyzers and the related economies of scale, also created through technological evolution, could pave the way for this element. According to Enel’s estimates, it will be very competitive within 5 years.
In the current situation, therefore, hydrogen would allow us to take another step forward toward climate neutrality, provided that it is produced with renewable sources.