A public-private partnership effort focused on facilitating the deployment of green hydrogen infrastructure in the West was launched on Tuesday by a coalition that includes the National Association of State Energy Officials, the Western Interstate Energy Board, and the Green Hydrogen Coalition.
The Western Green Hydrogen Initiative (WGHI) will focus, among other things, on coordinating state, federal and industry investments in hydrogen, as well as helping states develop strategies to produce and store hydrogen.
- But the sector will need to bring down the costs of hydrogen substantially in order to deploy it at scale, Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, said at a virtual event Tuesday. "In the modeling that we've done in our climate scoping work, we end up … choosing relatively low deployment of hydrogen because the model has the cost so high," Toor explained.
The power sector needs bridging technologies like hydrogen to transition away from fossil-based gas and toward green gases, as well as to integrate more renewables, California Energy Commissioner Andrew McAllister said at the Green Hydrogen Visions for the West virtual conference on Tuesday.
Green hydrogen refers to hydrogen that isn't produced with fossil fuels and doesn't lead to incremental carbon emissions. While the industry is still extremely nascent, interest in the resource has been growing, both as a means to decarbonize hard-to-electrify sectors as well as a possible way to store energy seasonally.
The Western Green Hydrogen Initiative will essentially work as a "steering committee" to aid in that development, according to a press release. It is spearheaded by the National Association of State Energy Officials, a non-profit association for governor-designated energy officials; the Western Interstate Energy Board, which represents 11 Western states and two Canadian provinces; and the Green Hydrogen Coalition. The initiative is also supported by Mitsubishi Power.
Colorado is looking at hydrogen as a possible part of its legislatively-adopted climate targets, which require the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 90% below 2005 levels by mid-century, Toor said.
"We have a clear pathway to an 80%, 90% reduction … but in order to get that last 10%-15%, we're going to need something beyond low-cost renewables," Toor said, adding that the state's utilities are interested in hydrogen as a prime candidate to achieve that.
And hydrogen can also play a role in system reliability, Martin Adams, general manager and chief engineer at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) said at the event. Last year, LADWP announced plans to convert a Utah power facility from coal to a natural gas-hydrogen blend, eventually running on 100% hydrogen by 2045.
While lithium-ion and flow batteries, as well as other technologies, can provide some storage capacity, a highly renewable grid could require storing energy beyond a few hours in the evening — for instance, for a week of cloudy weather, Adams said. "Hydrogen can be what we call dispatchable energy, and that's energy that's there when you need it," he added.
And in Washington state, currently in the process of developing a state energy strategy that includes a deep decarbonization model, green hydrogen is an emerging topic of interest, Sarah Vorpahl, senior energy policy specialist at the Washington State Department of Commerce, said at the conference.
But the sector faces challenges, especially in terms of costs. Clifford Rechtschaffen, commissioner at the California Public Utilities Commission, noted that California regulators — like those in Colorado — aren't selecting a lot of hydrogen in their resource scenarios because of its cost.
"And because of that, and because we don't have any overarching state or regional plan promoting hydrogen … we are not moving towards greater investment at the state level in terms of promoting hydrogen across the board," Rechtschaffen said, adding that the state faces a chicken-and-egg situation because it also needs longer-term goals to trigger investments in the sector.
What needs to come next, according to McAllister, is "somebody has to actually sit on the egg and hatch it." That means investments, as well as a concerted effort around some kind of hydrogen plan.
"We need a better understanding of the cost trajectory and the timelines there," McAllister noted