COP26: “CO2-free” gas power plants, probable future or energy fairy tale?

The preferred route therefore seems to be that of hydrogen, more specifically “green” hydrogen, ie hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water from renewable electricity (as opposed to “grey” hydrogen, obtained from fossil resources and therefore polluting). Francesco Contino, civil engineer and professor at UCLouvain and hydrogen expert. “Technically yes, it will be possible to use green hydrogen and therefore carbon-free in our future power plants‘ he immediately warns.

However, he does not hide it, the idea of ​​actually operating these power plants with green hydrogen leaves him more than skeptical: “There are other restrictions” he continues.”Rather, the availability of this hydrogen will raise questions. We already use a lot of hydrogen in industry (Note: currently gray hydrogen), about 300 TWh (terawatt hour) at European level. And indeed, in the Green Deal, this ambitious plan that Europe has drawn up, there are two times 40 gigawatts. Forty in Europe and forty outside Europe with possibility of import. And this capacity will therefore actually only produce the amount that is already consumed in industry. So the main problem is that if we want to use more hydrogen, we need even more production. And even the most ambitious plans don’t cover it at the moment‘, emphasizes Francesco Contino.

Hydrogen more expensive than gas

While the entire transport sector, from aircraft manufacturers to car manufacturers to trains, is also largely relying on green hydrogen in order to “decarbonize” itself in the coming decades, it is difficult to imagine providing large thermal power in addition to green hydrogen stations, even in the long term. Especially since switching to this energy source would inevitably involve costs which, although difficult to estimate, will probably be prohibitive compared to gas prices, according to Francesco Contino: “Hydrogen is a very practical fuel, but we often forget that it comes at a price. Installation related costs especially (Note: for the conversion of power plants, currently only partially compatible with hydrogen) and then the currently announced best prices are around five euros per kilo of hydrogen. If we convert that into a unit of energy, that would be around 150 or 170 euros per megawatt hour. However, natural gas is currently around 100 euros per megawatt hour and we are already crying out for a crisis. We are already having problems supplying our power plants. So it is not so easy to imagine switching to an even more expensive fuel. he warns.

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