Roundtable Looks at Storage, Hydrogen to Decarbonize Northeast
Clockwise from top left: Kevin Hagerty, Vicinity Energy; Jonathan Raab of Raab Associates; Mateo Jaramillo, Form Energy; and Doug Moore, Toyota.
Clockwise from top left: Kevin Hagerty, Vicinity Energy; Jonathan Raab of Raab Associates; Mateo Jaramillo, Form Energy; and Doug Moore, Toyota. | Raab Associates
The New England Electricity Restructuring Roundtable on discussed storage and/or hydrogen as possible pathways to fully decarbonize the Northeast.

The New England Electricity Restructuring Roundtable on Friday discussed storage and hydrogen as possible pathways to fully decarbonize the Northeast, including using both technologies in electric power production, transportation and buildings.

The keynote speakers presented views from neighboring New York and Canada, with Jonatan Julien, Québec Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, appearing in a pre-taped video to share the province’s new strategies to produce green hydrogen with hydropower and to develop batteries from indigenous lithium, aluminum and hydro resources.

Regional Approach

“Québec has the potential to be a world leader in renewable energy production and a team leader in decarbonizing the Northeast,” Julien said. “We share the same ambitions for a greener and a more sustainable energy future because we know that climate change knows no borders.”

As proof of the province’s role, Julien referred to New York in November having finalized a contract with Hydro-Quebec Energy Services for the Champlain Hudson Power Express to carry Canadian hydropower all the way to New York City. (See Two Transmission Projects Selected to Bring Low-carbon Power to NYC.)

Dominique Deschenes, Québec Deputy Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, appeared live and clarified that the province will not be manufacturing batteries but wants to invest in in a complementary sector for the manufacture of specialty electric vehicles such as emergency vehicles or fire trucks, and to develop the province’s role in a battery recycling logistics chain.

Raab Roundtable Panel 2 (Raab Associates) Content.jpgClockwise from top left: NYSERDA CEO Doreen Harris; Jonathan Raab of Raab Associates; and Dominique Deschenes, Québec Deputy Minister of Energy and Natural Resources | Raab Associates


On the role of green hydrogen in her province, Deschenes said, “Hydrogen is for us to use where we cannot use direct electricity.”

The Quebecois see green hydrogen being used for heating buildings, but especially for transportation and industry because of sectors like mining that cannot easily use electricity, she said.

“Hydrogen also goes with bioenergy [and] for 2030 we have a target of 37.5% GHG emissions reduction and we think that almost 15% of this reduction will be done with bioenergy and green hydrogen,” Deschenes said.

New York is ahead of schedule on its solar and energy storage targets and is also participating in several national and global groups focused on hydrogen, said joint keynote speaker Doreen Harris, CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

For example, New York is collaborating with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on a hydrogen strategy study to compile baseline information and data that will help to determine the role green hydrogen could play in the state’s decarbonization plans, Harris said.

In July, NYSERDA made $12.5 million in funding available for developing long-duration energy storage solutions that are six-plus hours in duration.

The state also is working with the Center for Hydrogen Safety, a global community of more than 75 government, industry and national lab participants promoting and learning about hydrogen safety and best practices across industrial and consumer applications, she said.

“We have also joined the HyBlend collaborative research partnership, which is comprised of six national labs and 15 university and industry partners co-led by NREL and Stony Brook University,” Harris said. “This national partnership will generate a database that allows New York to access the use of existing infrastructure and to develop general principles of operation of blended hydrogen and natural gas delivery systems.”

NYSERDA is looking to leverage the state’s regional clean energy hubs with funding focused on carbon capture and clean hydrogen, which is part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, she said.

“This federal context is a very critical one for us as a state,” Harris said. “We see great alignment in the broader policies, but also a huge opportunity to capture those federal investments as we make New York the hub … for this burgeoning industry.”

In addition, the state target of 9 GW of offshore wind by 2035 is “only the beginning,” and will likely double, with plenty of opportunity at low load times to use that relatively low-cost power to produce green hydrogen, Harris said.

Strategy and Policy

Decarbonizing the Northeast can be thought of as a battle between how much and how fast renewable generation can be developed and how that can offset GHG from fossil fuel resources, said Paul Hibbard, principal of Analysis Group.

The concern is that no matter how many thousands of gigawatts are generated from wind and solar there will be times when those technologies are unable to generate enough power to meet demand. And as electrification of the economy grows, such as with adoption of electric vehicles and electric heat pumps, those shortfalls could become big problems.

And that’s why current hydrogen R&D projects are “incredibly important,” said Hibbard. The energy density and phase flexibility of hydrogen make it easily transportable and potentially able to take advantage of existing pipeline and fuel storage infrastructure, he said.

Utilities and wind developers could “overbuild” wind and solar projects and produce hydrogen, which could then be stored and used as a “ramping resource,” whether burned in a combustion turbine or used in fuel cells to help stabilize the grid, Hibbard said.

The major question is whether green hydrogen will be cheap enough to be economic, Hibbard said.

Notwithstanding that question, National Grid, which delivers gas and electricity to 20 million customers across the Northeast, intends to distribute renewable (bio) natural gas and green hydrogen as part of a master plan to get to net zero carbon emissions.

“In some ways our gas network is the largest storage system we have, and through clean, net-zero fuel we see that as a way to provide value to our customers,” said Judith Judson, head of U.S. strategy at National Grid.

Hydrogen will interconnect large scale renewables with a modernized grid, she said.

“The magnitude of growth in clean electric generation needed to get to net zero across New England and New York will require hydropower, 25 gigawatts of onshore wind, 40 gigawatts of offshore wind and over 50 gigawatts of solar,” Judson said.

Energy storage, whether batteries or stored hydrogen, will be the “glue” that holds the system together, she said.

“We’re excited about storage as a transmission asset. It [provides] the opportunity to increase both the capacity of our existing infrastructure and improve the resiliency of the network by acting as a backup to the network,” Judson said.

Hydrogen may face competitive hurdles as a grid storage system, said Audrey Zibelman, vice president of of Tapestry, X’s moonshot for the electricity grid.

Zibelman stepped down as chair of the New York Public Service Commission in 2017 to serve as CEO of grid operator Australian Energy Market Operator, before returning early this year to the Google venture, X.

As for hydrogen as a method of long-term storage, the Australian grid operator decided pumped hydro was more cost effective than hydrogen storage, at least initially because of the cost of green hydrogen, she said.

Green hydrogen’s role in long-duration storage depends on reducing the cost, including the cost of electrolysis equipment used to make hydrogen from water.

“If we are talking about a 1-in-10-year event, where we need long duration storage, for days as opposed to just hours it’s going to become a very difficult market,” Zibelman said.

The answer might be something in the form of a storage reserve, like an oil reserve, but how would someone invest in something that might only be used once in four or five years, she said.

“We have probably not exhausted the DER side in terms of resources to make the grid itself much more efficient,” she said.

Probably the easiest market for hydrogen would be where gray hydrogen is now used, in heavy industry and refineries, Zibelman said.

Case Study Storage

The final panel featured storage and green hydrogen case studies in the power, transportation and building sectors.

Form Energy developed a sophisticated suite of analytics, which allowed it to run very complex technology-neutral investment and operational models for power grids.

Iron is cheap and abundant, two features that enable the company to project it will hit very aggressive cost targets, said Form Energy CEO Mateo Jaramillo.

“We are delivering our first material commercial project in a few years, so by the end of 2023 we will turn on our first pilot project, a roughly 1-MW, 150-MWh battery storage, hundreds of hours of duration for a transmission distribution co-op in Minnesota called Great River Energy,” Jaramillo said.

Form Energy developed a sophisticated suite of analytics that allow it to run complex cooperation problems. The company is today running integrated resource plans alongside the utilities that it’s talking to, so that when those utilities examine their future system needs and asset mix, “we’re able to inject the different types of technologies that may show up and compare them in a financial model,” Jaramillo said.

Mike Hill at FERC asked about the market barriers to deploying long-duration storage.

“The simplest response is that we need to price reliability,” Jaramillo said.

Case Study Transit

Toyota’s various hydrogen fuel cell initiatives are geared toward everything from light- to heavy-duty vehicles, buses, boats and stationary generators, and particularly to eventually power heavy-duty trucks, said Douglas Moore, the automaker’s general manager in the U.S. for fuel cell solutions.

Meanwhile, the world’s largest carmaker is making progress on relieving consumer range anxiety with fuel cell technology.

“Just a couple of months ago we had a hyper-miler run our second generation Mirai in Southern California, and he achieved a Guinness record of longest distance traveled by a fuel cell vehicle.  So he was able to go 845 miles on a single fill-up,” Moore said.

Toyota started fuel cell infrastructure development in California and has partnered with a number of station providers, including including First Element, Air Liquide, Shell and Iwatani, to supply fuel and Shell for distribution.  There are 49 stations open and more than 120 under development, mainly in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego, and in the Lake Tahoe area, he said.

Toyota is working to expand fuel cell markets across the country, with areas of promise being Colorado, Texas, the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast.

“On developing the light-duty vehicle refueling infrastructure, what would be the main factors in Toyota’s determination of which if any of these other markets to enter … and how much would the availability of green hydrogen from offshore wind or hydro in the Northeast influence such a decision?” said Roundtable organizer Jonathan Raab.

Moore said that California has obviously been a favorable state from a policy perspective, and developing fuel cell refueling infrastructure has its own challenges. “By sprinkling it around you’re creating a lot of little hotspots that could potentially have failure without backup,” he said.

Toyota concentrated in California on solving the whole equation, from supply to distribution to station provider — driven by supportive public policy.  In the Northeast, “culturally I think there’s a huge alignment as well … a strong desire to have green hydrogen and carbon neutralization here,” Moore said.

Case Study Power

Vicinity Energy plans to decarbonize its district energy system, which serves more than 65 million square feet of buildings and facilities in Boston and Cambridge, through a combination of renewable fuels, hydrogen, large scale heat pumps and storage.

District energy is a force multiplier, a way to get inside a building and alter that building’s carbon profile without having to make significant changes or any changes in the building at all, said Kevin Hagerty, chief technology officer of Vicinity Energy.

The company owns about 26 miles of steam piping underneath Boston and Cambridge, and three central facilities situated on the backbone power grid, all serving the equivalent of 55 Prudential Towers.

“If we make a change on just one of our facilities, if we make a small fuel change or small changes to our producing that steam, it alters the carbon profile of all the buildings connected to the district energy system,” Hagerty said.

The company is achieving electrification by installing electric boilers, industrial heat pumps, and thermal batteries, and hopes to take “a big bite out of the Boston and Cambridge carbon emissions” and decarbonize upwards of 800,000 metric tons per year by 2035, Hagerty said.

Industrial heat pumps will leverage heat from the adjacent Charles River, and thermal batteries will help the company improve district energy’s existing good alignment with peak generation from the offshore wind that’s soon coming onto the New England grid, he said. Offshore wind, like heating, peaks in the winter, and its daily production peak from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. would offer Vicinity low-cost power for its load peak, which is precisely opposite the OSW production peak hours.

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