Ken Dragoon on the Promise of Renewable Hydrogen

05.19.20 | Podcast | By:

On this episode of the Fueling the Future podcast, I spoke with Ken Dragoon, executive director of the Renewable Hydrogen Alliance (RENEWH2) about the promise and future of renewable hydrogen. Following are a few excerpts from our discussion, which you can download or listen to at the link below or listen to in ITunes.

On the Mission of the Renewable Hydrogen Alliance:

“Two of our big issues is to raise awareness of producing fuels from electricity as a form of long-term storage that lots of people are prospecting for madly, thinking we need new technology to do that. The technology is here if we just recognize it. And the other issue is to promote that, when people talk about transportation electrification, it’s not just battery vehicles, it’s hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. We can make the hydrogen from electricity. So those are two of the big sort of central messages that we’re promoting today. There’s a lot of work ahead because there’s a lot of lack of information among members of the public and even legislators about how far hydrogen has come.”

On Why Renewable Hydrogen Is Beginning to Take Off:

“It’s only really in the last few years that renewable hydrogen has begun to take off because wind and solar penetration levels have gotten high enough to where there’s a lot of surplus electricity running around. They’ve seen this in Europe, started deploying electrolyzers by the dozens, and that’s caused the capital cost of the devices to drop rapidly, factor of two, in just a few years. And those economies of scale are nowhere near through. The cost of this technology is dropping quickly, and so is the cost of the electricity to make the fuel itself, so that’s kind of what’s going on.”

On the U.S. v. Europe in Terms of Development:

“The United States is lagging because our penetration levels of renewables are lower than in Europe. And also hydrogen is a fuel, like natural gas, and it’s like you said, you can sort of substitute it for natural gas as the advantage of no carbon footprint, but natural gas in the United States is far cheaper than it is in Europe. So, they have more abundant electricity for this purpose and the value of the product, the hydrogen, is higher in Europe than it is here, where they don’t have any indigenous sources of natural gas. The development of renewable hydrogen and the renewable electricity kind of go hand in hand. If we’re going to use renewable electricity, wind, and solar, to meet a high fraction or even all of our electrical needs, we’re going to have these kinds of huge surpluses. And the alternative today is just turning off the renewables.”

On Renewable Electricity and Synthetic Fuels:

“I would argue, you can’t get to a 100% renewable electricity without using renewable electricity to make synthetic fuels that can be stored in conventional storage like gas pipelines or fuel tanks, if they make a liquid fuel, to run in conventional, even existing power plants to convert back to electricity. We can have these high pressure weather systems that can set over a multi-state area. And while they sit there, there’s no wind happening within those areas. We’ve seen that that is not uncommon for a week of no wind in the winter, in the Northern latitudes, where we are. Where solar can’t really fill in, and to replace all of our gas and coal fired turbines with batteries to cover a week or two weeks of low wind output would cost many tens of times more than the actual renewable to get to 100%.”

(Note: Ken mentions SB 5811 in the podcast recording; it’s actually SB 5588. Information on the bill can be found at this link.)

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