Hydrogen in the Irish Energy Transition | Opportunities and Challenges

by Dr. Luciano de Tomassi, Dr. Padraig Lyons

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends a reduction in energy demand, decarbonisation of electricity and other fuels, greater levels of electrification and complementary carbon dioxide (CO²) removal activities, to limit global warming to 1.5 °C and achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2050. To achieve these targets, in a manner that is both cost effective and ensures that the security and reliability we enjoy today is maintained, is a fundamental challenge to the operation of our societies. How economies will realise this transition to a nett zero society is unclear, with a number of new technologies and concepts potentially providing solutions to accelerate and reduce the costs associated with achieving these targets. Hydrogen is seen as one potentially game changing technology of the net zero economy, because it is a clean, reliable, and sustainable energy vector. The key value proposition of hydrogen is that it is an energy-rich and environmentally friendly substance that enables low carbon transport and/or the storage of energy. This also facilitates the consumption of energy remote in time and/or space from a primary production site. Furthermore, it can also be used as fuel in transportation applications. The incorporation of hydrogen production and storage into energy systems has been shown to be feasible even though more expensive than battery bank approaches for energy storage over shorter timescales. However, for inter-seasonal or longer-term storage, research indicates that hydrogen in suitable geological formations will be feasible, in contrast to grid-connected battery storage solutions which are expected to be limited to shorter-term applications.

Furthermore, hydrogen could play a significant role in decarbonizing the iron, steel, and transport sectors in all the EU countries plus Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland, thereby helping to fulfil tight carbon constraints. Green hydrogen, which is hydrogen derived completely from renewable energy and water using electrolysers, can be used for electricity generation using a fuel cell, a technology that can efficiently convert hydrogen to electricity with byproducts being water and heat. Moreover, hydrogen can be used as a substitute of natural gas to be combusted in gas turbines, heaters, boilers, or other energy devices for electricity generation. These capabilities also mean that green hydrogen could be a key enabler for renewables in the electricity sector and move towards the ‘100% renewables’ scenarios. Despite its higher production costs, green hydrogen is still appealing because the potential scalability of the carbon capture and storage technologies however this scalability has not been fully demonstrated yet.

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