IN A RESIDENTIAL neighborhood on suburban Long Island, a clean energy technology that is both old and new could be the answer to eliminating carbon emissions from the entire economy across the country. In Hempstead, a project called HyGrid will blend green hydrogen with renewable natural gas to safely and reliably heat homes, while slashing emissions. The project will cleanly heat just 800 or more homes for now, but successful pilots like this foreshadow what might be on the horizon throughout the US.
Hydrogen has been touted as the long-awaited solution to curbing climate change, but widespread adoption has been a slow crawl. Now, tucked into the 700-plus-page Inflation Reduction Act signed by the president, hydrogen stands to benefit more than any other clean energy technology. The legislation could result in hydrogen becoming cost-competitive and even less expensive than fossil fuels by 2030.
Tax credits in the new law, combined with funding from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, indicate hydrogen might be finally catching on. None of this has happened overnight. National Grid has advanced this technology for years through more than two dozen research projects with academic and industry partners because we believe this is a fuel that will keep the Earth from getting warmer. Bill Gates has even called hydrogen the Swiss Army knife of cutting emissions.
Despite a lack of widespread hydrogen distribution, the gas network in the United States has seen hydrogen before. Prior to the advent of natural gas in the 1950s, some systems had approximately 50 percent hydrogen blend flowing in the system. Today, homes on the Hawaiian Islands safely receive heat from hydrogen blends.
Not only is hydrogen proving to be safe in the US, but it contributes to affordable energy. By delivering a blend of hydrogen and renewable natural gas, the product of organic waste, in existing networks, customers can access clean heat in a way that’s compatible with their homes’ existing appliances. They won’t need to make costly investments in new electric appliances and upgrade the electrical systems of their homes. This is especially important for renters who would not be able to upgrade existing appliances.
None of the recent advancements would matter if hydrogen weren’t a clean fuel. Today, it is possible to produce hydrogen with very limited or even zero emissions, which is called clean hydrogen created from renewables like solar, hydropower or wind.
Long-term, a hydrogen ecosystem that includes blending hydrogen with renewable natural gas into the existing gas networks; decarbonizing campuses, commercial buildings and large industrial customers with 100 percent hydrogen fuel, and generating power with clean hydrogen when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, will be critical to overcoming the threat of climate change.
It’s not surprising that hydrogen is now receiving the federal support it needed all along, but it is welcome. The commitment at both the state and federal level tells us one thing: Hydrogen is no longer just an idea discussed as a potential solution at energy conferences. Hydrogen is here to stay. The Inflation Reduction Act, a landmark moment for our country, proves it.
Will Hazelip is president of National Grid Ventures, Northeast US.