September 09, 2020

Hydrogen! Environmentalists newest golden child

Hydrogen! Environmentalists newest golden child

The most recent golden child of the global climate alarmist movement (and therefore of our Prime Minister and his cabinet) is hydrogen. 

Seamus O’Regan, our minister of Natural Resources, has jumped onto the hydrogen bandwagon.

Gerald Butts, and the rest of the members of the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery, are big fans of hydrogen energy. One of their objectives in their preliminary report is to “Harness Canada’s global advantage in low-carbon hydrogen by de-risking investment, building infrastructure, growing export markets and supporting targeted commercialization of the cleanest hydrogen in the world.” 

There is a lot to unpack in that one sentence. But, essentially, Butts and the Task Force want our national energy infrastructure redesigned to accommodate hydrogen energy - and they want it to happen fast, irrespective of cost, and in the wake of the worst economic crisis we’ve experienced since the Great Depression. 

The story with hydrogen is, in many ways, the same story as with any other alternative energy option. It offers great promise, but it is severely constrained by how expensive it is to produce and manage; at present it is far from ready to replace existing fuels and meet our need for affordable, efficient energy. Maybe one day, but not yet!

Let's break down exactly how hydrogen gas is produced and why it is too expensive and volatile to become a main source of energy in our system. 

Hydrogen gas can be produced in different ways, and the way in which the gas is produced determines its environmental standing. 

Green hydrogen is produced when renewable energy sources are used to power electrolysis - the process which separates the hydrogen atoms from the oxygen in water. 

Grey hydrogen is produced by extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels using steam-methane reforming - the process releases CO2 and CO. 

Blue hydrogen and Turquoise hydrogen fall between green and grey on the environmental virtue scale. They are both produced the same way as grey hydrogen. But blue hydrogen buries CO2 emissions underground rather than releasing them. Turquoise converts the CO2 into solid, usable forms. 

The problems with hydrogen gas as an energy source become apparent as we explore the details on its production, whatever its colour. 

Green hydrogen relies on renewables like wind and solar as energy sources. As we’ve written about many times before, wind and solar energy are very expensive sources of energy. Using them for hydrogen is a way to use them when the power isn’t needed (remember, they can’t be stored so converting them to hydrogen prevents waste) but it doesn’t make them less expensive. In effect, it means using up what would be wasted expensive fuel by producing more expensive fuel. 

Turquoise, blue, and even grey hydrogen simply add an additional step to the production of hydrocarbon energy - which means higher costs. And in the case of grey hydrogen, the emission reductions are not even there to justify this cost. 

A recent analysis from the Global Warming Policy Foundation about the push for hydrogen in the UK called the current state of hydrogen production a “a commodity production system, not an energy system”. 

In other words, hydrogen is nowhere near where it would need to be to make significant inroads in replacing current energy sources. 

The same report outlines some of the costs of different methods of hydrogen production if they were to be used to meet the UKs current emission reduction commitments.  Billions and billions will need to be spent, which means energy bills will go up - a lot.

As with so many alternative energy sources, hydrogen is being presented as something that can meet the demands of modern energy systems now, because green ideologues insist we have to do these things now. As so many jurisdictions have shown, and California shows as I write this, governments and global organizations who try to push these energy sources onto citizens before the technologies are ready merely to destabilize existing energy systems and make life more expensive. 

Canada of the 21st century should not have unaffordable, unreliable energy systems. We have extraordinary energy resources of many, many kinds - and we should try to use them all to keep energy affordable for Canadians. 

One day hydrogen may become more common as part of the energy mix, but pushing it too hard and fast threatens to hurt Canada, not help us. Attempts to force our country to adapt energy that does not meet our needs is impractical and unjust.