Friday, August 17, 2007

Global Energy Sector Facing Change

The global energy sector is on the point of immense change. The current carbon economy, produces about 80% of the world's energy supply and depends on fossil fuels, which are finite and which produce harmful emissions. This infrastructure has been developed over about two centuries, but in the next 50 years will give way to a whole different reality. No matter a person's views on global warming or the causes of climate change, everyone agrees that the environment is vital to our future. Currently, only 11% of the world's energy needs are supplied by renewable sources.

How are we to provide the huge amounts of energy we need in our modern lives in a clean and secure manner? Governments, scientists and companies have now allocated large R&D budgets to finding the answer.

The "hydrogen economy", is an emerging sustainable energy supply system featuring electricity and hydrogen as dominant energy carriers. Supply of hydrogen is potentially limitless and clean. It is currently used in some industrial processes.

Developing the hydrogen economy depends on the development of fuel cells. Fuel cells utilise the chemical energy of hydrogen to produce electricity and thermal energy. A fuel cell is a quiet, clean source of energy. Water is the only by-product it emits if it uses hydrogen directly. There are a myriad of applications for the technology. In a hydrogen economy, vehicles are powered by Fuel Cells, akin to batteries, which produce electricity with the aid of hydrogen rather than gasoline. Hydrogen can be used for power stations, domestic use, electric and electronic appliances and transportation.

Hydrogen development is already beginning and the future is likely to see the emergence of a combination of existing and new technologies


Anonymous Hans De Keulenaer said...

Is the term 'hydrogen economy' the most correct or honest label for the future energy system?

It appears that hydrogen will be used as a carrier to support a predominantly electrical system.

And hydrogen is not the only means of balancing the system. We have hydro power, and in future increased energy storage options, demand response, ...

Some say hydrogen will be forever the fuel of the future. Surely there are plenty of alternatives in the running.

8:44 am  
Blogger Euan Blauvelt said...

I agree, your comment is absolutely valid. We used the term ‘hydrogen economy’ to focus on the issue of an alternative energy carrier, of which hydrogen seems to be the most salient at present. However, in the body of our Hydroegn report we looked at alternative mixes of technology and carrier and expressed the view that a future system may be a hybrid of different applications, including hydrogen.
The following is an extract from the report on this issue.
“Although there are many positive factors in the concept of a hydrogen economy, there are arguments against it. The potential benefits include high efficiencies, decentralised power generation, security of supply, reduced emissions, reliable and silent operation, energy savings, multiple uses and opportunities for hybrids. On the downside there are huge technological challenges and massive investment is needed to create capacity and infrastructure for the production and delivery of hydrogen. The environmental benefits are only as good as the sources and processes of production, and finally there are competitive technologies.
New technologies include large scale electrification in conjunction with plug-in hybrid vehicles and Li-ion batteries in transport. In the stationary applications market, distributed electricity generation or cogeneration present an alternative to hydrogen. Other significant competitors are a new level of power generation technologies, such as large, increased efficiency coal and gas-fired power plants, possibly using underground coal gasification (UCG) with CO2 capture and storage (CCS), renewable electricity supply technologies which are already widespread in the market (wind and solar PV) or now being commercialised (ocean and tidal energy), and new nuclear power technologies. At the same time, new technologies such as micro-turbines and Stirling engines are being introduced in combined heat and power applications. All of these technologies are in the pipeline and will not simply be overridden by hydrogen.
It cannot be taken as a forgone conclusion that an exclusive hydrogen economy will emerge. Hydrogen is coming but it may consist of a hybrid of hydrogen applications side by side with conventional fossil fuels, nuclear and renewable energy. The final evolution is so far in the future and the waters are so uncharted that many variants are possible.”
You are quite right, ‘hydrogen economy’ is too restrictive, we need a new term. Any ideas?

5:00 pm  

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