Renewable hydrogen – also known as green hydrogen – is produced by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen using an electrical current (electrolysis) supplied by renewable electricity such as solar or wind.
Because there are no greenhouse gas emissions from either its production or use, renewable hydrogen is gaining increased attention as a clean energy resource for a wide range of possible uses, including as an important zero-carbon alternative or supplement to conventional natural gas.
Renewable hydrogen is at an emerging stage of commercial use similar to where wind and solar were only a short time ago. In Europe and Japan, renewable hydrogen is already attracting major public and private investments, with projects being developed on a commercial scale.
Renewable hydrogen is expected to become economically attractive as the costs of both the production technology and the renewable electricity needed to make it continue to decline.
CenterPoint Energy and Renewable Hydrogen
CenterPoint Energy is committed to a cleaner energy future by reducing carbon emissions across our operations and energy supply chain. We are undertaking a rigorous, systematic approach to test and evaluate the potential use of renewable hydrogen as an innovative zero-carbon energy resource that could be integrated into our local natural gas distribution systems.
Throughout this process, we are prioritizing safety, the integrity and resilience of our pipeline system, and continued reliable service to our customers.
As a first step, we are building a field demonstration project in Minnesota that will go online in 2021. The project will produce renewable hydrogen for blending with our local natural gas supply. The renewable hydrogen in this project will be added in small concentrations (less than 5% by volume) to limited, low-pressure sections of our distribution pipeline system. The project is expected to avoid 1,200 tons of CO2 emissions annually, equal to the annual energy use of nearly 140 homes.
The goal of the project is to gain successful operational experience with the technology for making and using renewable hydrogen. The project will also inform and guide our efforts to safely and effectively integrate this zero-carbon resource into our local gas distribution systems to serve our customers.
CenterPoint Energy’s Expertise
Hydrogen has different chemical and physical properties than natural gas which must be considered when it is added to existing natural gas pipeline systems. Existing research studies and demonstration projects in Europe indicate that low concentrations of hydrogen (up to 20% by volume) blended with natural gas can generally be accommodated in existing gas systems with no significant impacts on safety or infrastructure integrity. Hydrogen blending processes must also consider any possible effects on the performance of customer appliances and equipment. CenterPoint Energy has decades of experience adding supplemental gases to our natural gas distribution system though operation of the nation’s largest fleet of propane-air peak shaving facilities. Our employees are skilled in gas mixtures and customer appliance performance. We expect no impact from the low hydrogen blends in our demonstration project, and we will use this project to validate proper functioning of natural gas appliances and equipment.
CenterPoint Energy is one of the few gas utilities in the U.S. with its own materials laboratory (located in Golden Valley, Minnesota), with substantial experience in testing the integrity and quality of a wide range of gas pipeline materials and system components. We will be drawing on the expertise of this highly regarded lab to review the effects, if any, of renewable hydrogen blends in our distribution system.