A rising physique of analysis warns that hydrogen itself could be a highly effective contributor to international warming however neither native companies nor California regulators appear to be paying consideration.
Final month, the Los Angeles Metropolis Council approved town’s Division of Water and Energy, or DWP, to start changing its 80-year-old Scattergood Producing Station from pure gasoline to hydrogen. The division argued that the brand new hydrogen plant shall be a vital piece of their plan to go carbon-neutral by 2035.
Whereas burning hydrogen is carbon-free, that doesn’t imply it’s protected for the local weather.
A rising physique of analysis warns that hydrogen itself could be a highly effective contributor to international warming – however neither DWP nor state local weather companies appear to be paying consideration.
As DWP decarbonizes, it has determined to depend on hydrogen to fill at the hours of darkness, windless hours when renewable applied sciences can’t produce sufficient energy – and to function a neighborhood counterbalance to the Los Angeles Basin’s overtaxed long-distance transmission traces. In 2019, it made a 50-year funding in blended pure gasoline and hydrogen combustion in Utah. After Scattergood, the division hopes to transform its Haynes, Harbor and Valley Producing Stations to a hydrogen mix as effectively.
DWP’s causes for turning to hydrogen are professional. Many safer, extra environment friendly or extra confirmed options to the challenges of intermittent renewables and restricted transmission merely can’t match the dimensions of DWP’s downside on their very own. However DWP hasn’t finished the groundwork to ensure that hydrogen received’t perpetuate the local weather injury that led them to it within the first place.
Round the remainder of the state, different electrical utilities are turning to more and more refined demand-response packages and new large-scale energy storage applied sciences like movement batteries. DWP, although, has proven little curiosity in both.
Nor has DWP absolutely addressed group teams’ issues that hydrogen combustion will proceed to provide air pollution. Because of opposition by town’s tireless environmental justice advocates, town council tasked DWP with contemplating a few of these options and addressing the unsolved menace of nitrogen oxide emissions. However the chance that leaking hydrogen will make the venture a local weather menace hasn’t but been confronted.
DWP is hardly the one Californian establishment speeding to decide to hydrogen. SoCalGas, one of many state’s largest pure gasoline utilities, hopes to mix hydrogen into the gasoline community that provides houses and companies throughout Southern California. To do this, it has begun work on an enormous hydrogen pipeline venture known as the Angeles Hyperlink, and is planning exams in campus buildings at UC Irvine. In the meantime, a Bay Space transit company is making ready to fabricate hydrogen to energy a brand new prepare line linking Alameda and San Joaquin counties.
Every of those tasks plans to make use of hydrogen another way, and every has its personal dangers and rewards. Hydrogen warms the local weather when it leaks into the ambiance whereas being transported or saved, so tasks that goal to maneuver hydrogen round or retailer massive portions of it for lengthy durations of time current the best local weather hazard.
Whereas DWP hasn’t publicly addressed the specter of hydrogen leakage, SoCalGas has claimed that its future hydrogen pipelines needs to be no leakier than its present pure gasoline system. That’s extraordinarily unlikely: As a result of hydrogen is the smallest molecule in existence, it’s additionally among the many hardest to include. Even taken at face worth, although, SoCalGas’ claims are chilly consolation contemplating their present system’s lengthy historical past of leaks.
Fortunately, California has already created quite a lot of world-class regulatory packages to watch and cut back greenhouse gasoline emissions. By including hydrogen to the checklist of regulated greenhouse gases, the state Legislature can instantly put regulators to work monitoring hydrogen emissions and ensuring SoCalGas, DWP and others solely construct new hydrogen tasks once they’re each mandatory and climate-safe. This strategy will even focus researchers and entrepreneurs on bettering our restricted instruments for stopping and detecting hydrogen leaks.
Now that Congress has accepted beneficiant new tax credit for hydrogen manufacturing in final 12 months’s Inflation Discount Act, California needs to be bracing for a a lot bigger avalanche of latest hydrogen proposals – some well-planned and mandatory, and a few frivolous or downright harmful.
Most, like DWP’s Scattergood pilot, will fall someplace within the center. The local weather menace posed by these middle-ground tasks will depend upon the small print of their design, so it’s vital that regulators begin pushing to attenuate the possibility of hydrogen leakage.
To stop a second of local weather alternative from changing into a brand new local weather catastrophe, California wants to manage hydrogen.