At the UN General Assembly, President Biden warned that this winter, families around the world will be “choosing which child to feed and wondering whether they’ll survive.” Inflation, supply chain disruptions, the war in Ukraine and hostile energy politics by OPEC pose a greater threat to humanity than at any time in generations.
With pressure increasing on all families, we cannot lose focus on prolonged battles like climate change. We need better strategies to create a sustainable, affordable and reliable energy system. Colorado is already at the forefront of deploying cost saving technologies and is uniquely poised to drive a “consumer-first” clean energy revolution.
Over the past two decades, new technologies and better business practices have reduced greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. energy sector. The growth of renewable generation technologies, a 112% increase in natural gas generation to replace coal, and energy efficiency account for a 40% reduction in emissions from the power sector since 2005. Since 1990, methane emissions from U.S. gas distribution companies have fallen by 69% as utilities have tightened their systems and invested in energy efficiency.
The U.S. gas distribution systems can and must play a larger role in decarbonizing our energy sector. Innovative technologies can allow us to use our existing pipes to deliver cost-effective green hydrogen to Colorado homes.
Green hydrogen, produced by renewable electricity from sources like solar, is flexible and versatile. It allows energy to be stored, moved, and used in many ways across multiple sectors; it can heat homes, fuel industry, and power vehicles while displacing the use of more carbon intensive fuels.
While many of those renewable technologies still have years to mature, gas distribution systems can deliver green hydrogen today to customers throughout the country. In fact, utilities in North America and Europe can safely blend up to 5% of hydrogen into existing distribution systems, reducing building-sector emissions while preserving energy access and customer choice. European companies plan to build new pipe to move green hydrogen from Spain’s solar belt to Rotterdam, Netherlands, Europe’s industrial heartland.
For Colorado, green hydrogen could be a game changer. Colorado has a vast pipeline infrastructure and more than 300 sunny days each year. With the passage of the federal Inflation Reduction Act, Colorado will host thousands of megawatts of new solar generation.
Existing power lines don’t have the capacity to deliver that energy and upgrading the electric transmission system will be costly and time consuming, potentially stranding green energy. In 2021 alone, prices across the seven U.S. power grids dropped below zero more than 200 million times due to electricity bottlenecks. The problem is only expected to increase. By converting this energy to green hydrogen and delivering it over our existing pipeline system, Colorado could maximize its renewable energy resources without having to build costly new transmissions lines or limit customer choice.
In addition to providing a carbon-free source of heat, hydrogen can fuel heavy trucking and shipping fleets, and fuel industry. This is why some countries, from Kenya, Egypt and Morocco to Australia, China, and France, are driving hydrogen development as a key component of their respective decarbonization roadmaps.
Closer to home, Texas is positioning itself as a leader for green hydrogen development. With a U.S. Department of Energy grant, the University of Texas and multiple corporate sponsors are developing a hydrogen “proto-hub” that will explore numerous hydrogen applications. The in-state leadership has generated additional hydrogen investments, including a recent announcement from Plug Power, a fuel cell technology company, that, in addition to adding over 200 new jobs in Houston, is expanding its Texas operation with the goal of producing 500 tons of hydrogen per day by 2025.
As President Biden reminds us, consumers the world over are facing a tough winter and, potentially, a tough few years. If Colorado is to continue to lead a climate change revolution, it must better encourage innovative solutions like green hydrogen that can keep costs down. Thanks to the leadership at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden that pioneered research and development of green hydrogen in recent years, the state already has readily available technical expertise. Colorado should be leading the “consumer-first” revolution, not lagging behind.
By utilizing our existing pipeline infrastructure to fuel industry, heat homes and businesses and create long-term storage solutions, Colorado can lead in attracting green hydrogen investment and create a clean-fuels utility network that enables sector-wide decarbonization while meeting the energy trilemma of affordability, accessibility, and reliability.
Kurt Adams, of Yarmouth, Maine, is CEO of Summit Utilities, headquartered in Centennial and which owns natural gas distribution and transmission subsidiaries that operate in Colorado, Arkansas, Maine, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.
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