Export of Canada’s hydrogen to Germany by 2025 is a pipedream

I admire Germany for doing so much to reduce greenhouse gases. Too bad that the initiative has left them dependent on the import of natural gas –half of it from Russia.

image: Utility Analytics Institute

Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of Germany, came to Canada and signed a “Declaration of Intent” that would see hydrogen exported to Germany by 2025. Dream on.

Talk of hydrogen during Scholz’s visit has set Newfoundland abuzz with plans to build wind turbines to generate electricity and produce green hydrogen for export. But no turbines have been built, nor plants to produce hydrogen from electricity, and no facilities to convert the hydrogen into ammonia for transport.

Scholz also wants our liquefied natural gas. The chances of exporting of LNG from the east coast are close to zero.

First of all, there are no LNG export terminals on the East Coast. And even if there were, there is no pipeline to supply them. In fact, there are no operational LNG export terminals in all of Canada –the only one under construction will ship LNG from Kitimat, B.C., to Asia.

Another idea being floated is the dual use of LNG plants for compressing hydrogen. That’s also unlikely say Johanne Whitmore, chair in energy sector management at HEC Montréal and Paul Martin, a chemical engineer:

“However, hydrogen-ready LNG terminals do not actually exist today because both gases have different properties which require different infrastructure. Repurposing existing infrastructure would require extensive retrofitting at great expense. New infrastructure will take years to build, which won’t help Europe meet near-term energy needs, or abate its emissions (Globe and Mail, August 8, 2022).”

Hydrogen can be made from natural gas or electricity. When made from natural gas, it is classified as “grey” if none of the carbon produced in the process is sequestered and classified as “blue” if at least 90 per cent of the carbon is captured. When hydrogen produced from renewable electricity sources is classified as “green.”

It takes a lot of energy to make hydrogen. The use of natural gas to make hydrogen is more polluting than LNG without carbon sequestration. And most of the hydrogen produced in Canada is grey. Canada’s ambitious Shell Quest sequestration project has carbon capture rates of less than 50 per cent, well below the threshold that would classify it as blue.

Exporting liquid hydrogen is not only technically challenging, there are huge energy losses using natural gas production (30 per cent, compared to LNG’s 8 per cent).

 “As academics and engineers with decades of experience in energy,” say Whitmore and Martin, “we are concerned that Canada’s dash to build new LNG infrastructure in the hope of exporting hydrogen is not only scientifically baseless, but risks locking both Canada and Germany into a fossil-based economy.”

Newfoundland’s concept would overcome the shipping problem, somewhat, by transporting hydrogen as ammonia. But more energy would be lost in converting ammonia back into hydrogen at the end.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was dreaming when he told a G7 in June that Eastern Canada LNG infrastructures could be expanded on the basis “they could then be used for hydrogen exporting,” thereby “keeping it consistent with Canada’s longer term climate goals.”

Dreams and hydrogen have one thing in common: they are both lighter than air and float away.


Germany pays customers to use electricity

German power companies paid customers to use electricity on one hundred occasions in 2017. Companies paid customers a lot relative to what they normally receive -1,720 times more per kilowatt hour.

   photo: CleanTechnica

The reason why power companies were so eager to pay customers had to do with the wind. Wind turbines were generating too much power on the grid and they had to dump it quickly. Surplus electricity is a dangerous problem that has to be corrected quickly.

While wind turbines can be switched off quickly, fossil fuel and nuclear sources can’t. Power grid managers have to agile to compensate for gusty winds.

The problem with surplus electricity is that voltage quickly rises and that can damage equipment. Power grid engineering is complex but one thing is simple: power in equals power out. Managing the grid requires a balance in the production and consumption of electricity. The sum of all the power used by your TVs and toasters, and all that of your neighbour’s, equals the power produced by generators. If the power produced is more than what’s used, something has to give.  What gives is a precipitous rise in voltage.

Christmas Day, 2017, was pleasantly warm in Germany and the wind was strong. As well, demand was abnormally low being a holiday when factories and offices are shut down. Suddenly, the wind blew and power companies had to shed a lot of power from the grid. So the plea went out from power companies to start wasting electricity. Turn on your electric heaters and all the lights in your house. Open the doors. We’ll pay a lot is you do.

Too much wind power is not unforeseen. Germany spent $250 billion to develop wind turbines and they now produce 20 per cent of the country’s power. The remainder of Germany’s power comes from fossil fuels and nuclear.

Germany has obviously solved one part of the greenhouse gas problem by investing heavily in renewable sources but the other side remains unresolved –how to store surplus energy. Battery technology doesn’t have the capacity to store huge amounts of power. If it did, surplus wind power could have been stored.

Batteries will work on a smaller, household scale. Elon Musk sells his Tesla Powerwall battery for $7,000 and it holds enough power to run your house for about 3 days. Imagine being paid to store electricity and then to use it to supply your energy needs for days? In Germany, you’d be doing yourself and the power company a favour.

If you live in B.C., not so much. British Columbia has the enviable position of generating power by hydroelectricity; 95 per cent of it with the remainder by natural gas plants.

B.C. can’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially by switching to wind and solar. Small scale installations in houses can reduce the cost of electricity for homeowners. Because dams hold stored power, storage of surplus electricity is not a problem.

Germany has reduced the burning of fossil fuels with wind and solar. Now, if they could only find some way to store the surplus electricity.