The U.S. is investing in hydrogen technology at a record pace and it might be the missing link in greening the grid. And with GM supporting V2G technology, you’ve got new options for keeping your home powered in a blackout.

Why a clear, invisible gas like hydrogen comes in colors like green, grey and blue

Wind. Solar. Geothermal. Nuclear. Tidal. It’s not hard to imagine how the many breakthroughs in renewable energy technologies might be able to supply enough terawatts to run the world. But having enough energy is different than having energy when and where you need it.

The next big questions in renewable energy are, “How do we store and move the energy renewables produce? How do we put it in a form that can power energy intensive applications such as steel production, shipping, trucking and aviation? And how do we use clean solar and wind energy in a world built for fossil fuels?”

More and more, the world is betting the answer to those questions is hydrogen. Hydrogen, the simplest and tiniest element, is poised to play a pivotal role in revolutionizing our energy landscape.

There’s much to recommend H2 as a fuel:

  • Burning hydrogen creates the cleanest possible result: pure water vapor.
  • Much of the expensive industrial infrastructure that has been built up for natural gas, including transmission and storage, can be adapted for hydrogen. (1)
  • Hydrogen burns very hot, close to the same temperature as natural gas, and can be used for applications like steel production. (2)

The problem is that right now, most hydrogen that is used in industrial settings is what’s known as “grey” hydrogen, and grey hydrogen is very bad for the environment.

Of course, pure hydrogen is just hydrogen: an invisible, non-toxic, lighter than air gas. But scientists use different colors to indicate how it was produced. Grey hydrogen is created by breaking methane molecules into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The hydrogen is captured, but the CO2 goes into the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. Blue hydrogen uses the same chemical process but captures the CO2 and stores it. There’s also something called black hydrogen, which is created by “gasifying” coal. There’s even turquoise hydrogen, which is produced with methane but results in solid carbon which can easily be buried deep underground.

But there’s a cleaner way to get hydrogen. If electrical current is sent through water, it splits the H20 into H2 and O2, hydrogen and oxygen. And if the electrical current comes from a clean, renewable energy source, it’s known as green hydrogen. This process is called “electrolysis”, and up until now, it’s been pretty expensive.

At COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Conference, The International Energy Agency went all in on hydrogen, outlining how green hydrogen is the key to net zero. As part of the UN’s efforts, they’ve partnered with non-profits and industry to launch the Green Hydrogen Catapault, an advocacy and funding group working to lower the cost of green hydrogen production and encourage research on converting current infrastructure to hydrogen.

In the U.S., the Biden administration has mapped its own effort, The U.S. National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap (3) and has earmarked $9 billion to make green hydrogen happen.

Many of the applications that could go green with hydrogen are industrial such as shipping, steel manufacturing and trucking. Changes in the way those businesses get their energy wouldn’t have much immediate effect on consumers, but the impact on climate would be monumental.

Vehicle to Grid charging leaps into the mainstream

The electrical grid is getting less reliable every day. (1) That means more and more people are looking to back up their home energy system. A standard 10- or 15- kilowatt hour (kWh) battery system attached to a garage wall can keep vital appliances running when the power goes down, but they are expensive.

But every day, more and more people drive a large capacity battery into their garage, plug it into the wall and forget it’s there until they need to go to work in the morning. The average capacity of an EV battery is around 69 kWh, more than four times the size of most home backup batteries. Electricity flows from the home power system to the car as it charges overnight. What if that energy could flow in the other direction during an outage or when the electricity supply was overwhelmed?

This week, General Motors said, “Sure, let’s do that.” (2)

The auto giant announced that its full line of EVs will be capable of vehicle-to-home (V2H) charging by model year 2026, with several models rolling out the feature this year.

The flagship of the GM’s EV efforts is the new Silverado. The company’s website claims that the massive truck battery will be able to power a home for up to 21 days. It is also designed to allow owners to sell stored energy to local utilities using vehicle to grid (V2G) technology where that option is available.

Several automakers have already launched vehicles with V2H and V2G capabilities, most notably Ford with its F-150 pickup truck. But with GM’s announcement, the automaker has brought the technology into the mainstream, and alerted solar and other home energy suppliers that many more consumers are going to be in the market for chargers that support the option.

Backing up a home’s energy system requires a special charging installation and there is currently very limited equipment on the market that is capable of it. With GM moving its full EV fleet in that direction, charging infrastructure should drop in price as manufacturers scale up.

Sending power back to the grid will require local utilities and their regulators to get involved, and those changes seldom move fast. But in states like California or Texas, where demand sometimes outstrips supply during peak times, having a fleet of EVs with thousands of kilowatt hours of stored energy to draw on could help avoid rolling blackouts.

The Weekly Sunsong

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