Ireland’s new national hydrogen strategy effectively rules out the use of green H2 in residential and commercial space heating and cars, while arguing that blending hydrogen into the gas grid should be a “last resort”.
“Hydrogen provides us with an incredible opportunity in Ireland, but its use must be targeted to the uses where it will deliver the greatest benefits,” says Eamon Ryan, minister for the environment, climate and communications and transport, in the foreword to the 100-page strategy document.
“We must not become distracted by the possibility to deploying hydrogen technologies where direct electrification would deliver a better outcome. If it is not efficient, if it is not the best use, and if it is not in line with our net zero plans, then we will not be doing it.
“We must collectively focus on the things that hydrogen is better than other solutions. We must focus on the real markets, where hydrogen will end up as the most advantageous solution.”
The document states that hydrogen should therefore only be used in sectors where direct electrification “will not be feasible or cost-effective”.
“Therefore, Ireland’s strategic approach to decarbonization is to concentrate first on energy efficiency, direct electrification, and finally targeting renewable and low-carbon fuels, such as hydrogen, for sectors that are hard to decarbonise.”
For this reason, “hydrogen is not expected to play in commercial and residential space heating”.
“Energy efficiency, direct electrification using heat pumps and the roll out of district heating are expected to be more efficient and cost-effective solutions for this sector,” it explains, adding that “hydrogen may play a very minor role… alongside alternative solutions such as district heating, biomethane and biomass boilers”.
“Overall, there is envisioned to be only a small amount of niche cases where hydrogen may have a role in commercial and residential heating.”
Blending hydrogen into the gas grid to reduce emissions from heating (and other uses) is similarly “not seen a high priority end-use for renewable hydrogen”.
“Blending could play an enabling role however as a ‘supply of last resort’, where there is excess production or as a transport and storage buffer in the absence of dedicated hydrogen infrastructure,” it says.
The authors of the document also seem unimpressed by the emissions-reduction potential of blending.
“A 20% blend of hydrogen by volume for example, a level beyond which many end user appliances are expected to have difficulties operating under, would only deliver around 7% carbon emissions savings.”
The strategy document explains that in the transport sector, battery electric vehicles “generally offer a lower total cost of ownership than fuel cell hydrogen options and are more energy efficient due to the energy conversion losses in producing and using hydrogen in fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs)”.
“Therefore, hydrogen is not envisaged to have a role in the passenger car fleet as direct electric technologies are already at a much higher technology readiness level and are preferable where they are technically feasible.”
But it concedes that “depending on how battery electric technology developers in the coming years… full electrification may remain a challenge for some heavy duty, long-range applications [ie, trucks or long-distance buses]”.
The document explains that due to binding EU targets for 2030, heavy-duty transport is anticipated to be the first end-use sector to develop in Ireland — especially as Ireland uses a negligible amount of hydrogen today, unlike many other EU states.
“Under European regulations and directives, Ireland will have specific targets for the deployment of renewable hydrogen in the transport sector by 2030. The provisional agreement on the Renewable Energy Directive proposes a target of 1% of Ireland’s transport energy to be in the form of renewable hydrogen with an additional 5.5% being either renewable hydrogen or a form of advanced biofuel by 2030,” it points out.
Railways also offer a similar opportunity for hydrogen.
“Electrification of the rail corridors are likely to prove more cost effective, especially over the distances covered by the Irish rail network,” the document explains. “However, hydrogen powered trains could potentially offer a solution along routes where full electrification of the rail corridor is not possible, or where the timelines to deliver the infrastructure to electrify the rail corridor necessitate alternative solutions such as hydrogen propelled trains as an interim solution.”
Hydrogen will also be required for use in shipping and aviation — most likely as the core ingredient of ammonia, methanol and synthetic aviation fuels.
Industrial heat and processing
Ireland’s hydrogen strategy argues that green hydrogen is “well-suited” to producing heat for high-temperature industrial processes (over 200°C).
“Renewable hydrogen can also displace fossil fuels in other large energy use sectors, like the pharmaceutical industry… and the cement industry,” it says.
The strategy then points out that Ireland will not be using green hydrogen to decarbonise existing demand for grey H2, as it has “relatively little hydrogen end-use compared to many other countries in Europe”.
Ireland also believes that green hydrogen “will have an important role in the electricity sector, both in decarbonising the conventional generation required at times when variable renewable electricity is less plentiful, enhancing energy security by diversifying supply, and as a method of storing electricity from variable renewable generation to address the challenges associated with system stability, seasonal wind variability and curtailment”.
“In the long-term, renewable hydrogen is expected to have an important role in the long duration storage of electricity as part of decarbonising a net zero emissions power system,” the document states.
“Storage technologies like batteries or pumped storage are well suited to shorter term within-day flexibility needs, whereas hydrogen’s energy density means it can provide a much higher energy density solution, suitable for inter-seasonal storage needs to help manage fluctuations in demand across the seasons and ensure energy security should sustained periods of low wind and solar availability occur.”
It also points out that as Ireland approaches and moves beyond its target of meeting 80% of its electricity demand from variable renewable sources by 2030, the operational hours of dispatchable power plants will reduce from around 4,000 hours a year today to 500-2,000.
The country must therefore “ensure sufficient market signals exist in future to support the development of long-distance storage and dispatchable zero-carbon power generation”.