The idea of using hydrogen to produce energy is not a new one. Already in 1874, visionary Jules Verne in his work “The Mysterious Island” said: “I believe that water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable.” Much later in 1966 General Motors used hydrogen as fuel in an eletrovan and even before that history knows some successful attempts to apply fuel cells using hydrogen in mobility.
In August 2020 Reinhard Haas shared recent ideas on prospects and impediments for a sustainable hydrogen-based energy system at MITAB 2020, the applied energy symposium provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA (MIT) co-organized by Harvard University. Reinhard Haas is head of the Energy Economics Group and academic director of the postgraduate program MSc Renewable Energy Systems at TU Wien. In cooperation with Researchers Amela Ajanovic and Marlene Sayer, he is focusing on sustainable energy systems with respect to energy efficiency, energy policy, energy modelling, and scenario development. The question raised is: which role can hydrogen as an energy carrier play in reducing GHG and thus be contributing to reaching the Paris Goals and which technical and economical solutions to the storage problem might be feasible.
Despite many attempts, Hydrogen never really took off as a major energy carrier. Visions for hydrogen-based energy systems have been presented continuously (e.g. EU roadmap H2 in 2002) but have been a failure so far. Presenting the major hydrogen production processes and their stage of development, Haas that from the three main methods (thermal, electrochemical and biological) even today, very few commercial technologies are available from an economic point of view. Looking at the efficiency, the effective performance of the supply chains in electrification and also methanisation of hydrogen is rather low due to many conversion steps involved. Baring in mind the substantial difference in supply and demand caused by the natural variations of renewable energy production, finding storage solutions providing for a certain amount of fullloadhours is a crucial step to maximize economics in hydrogen usage. Depicting several power-to-cost and power-to-price comparisons, Haas explains the scalability of hydrogen production by using electrolysis (which is one of the further developed production technologies today). Haas and Ajanovic expect technological learning especially for electrolysis and predict a significant drop in costs of production and prices until 2050 which possibly could have a substantial effect on the mobility sector, speaking of passenger car transport especially.
After making clear that energy decisions are always also policy decisions, the critical question is raised: What if hydrogen is the wrong horse to bet on? Summing up, one must conclude that hydrogen so far has not delivered. Economics are not given yet today, conversion efficiency is moderate and technologies not mature enough. Yet, in consideration of energy transition, Ajanovic, Sayer and Haas are convinced, that a broad portfolio and supplies of hydrogen is needed, regardless the existing shortcomings and incalculability of future development. Overcoming these obstacles will not only positively contribute to decarbonization and green mobility directly – getting to grips with the discussed efficiency issues in the long run can be hugely beneficiary for reaching international energy strategy goals defined by the Paris Agreement 2015 or the EU Green Deal.
To become an active player in the energy transition means knowing how sustainable energy systems work and tackling the challenge of system integration. For this knowledge and competence are key. With the interdisciplinary part-time Master’s program MSc Renewable Energy Systems, opens an external URL in a new window we educate tomorrow’s decision makers of the international new energy market.
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The Research Paper by Ajanovic A./ Sayer M./ Haas R. (EEG, TU Wien) will be available soon (working title: “Heading towards sustainable energy systems – the crucial role of green hydrogen”, 2021).
MSc Renewable Energy Systems - Key Facts
Final Degree: Master of Science (MSc)
Academic Director: Univ.Prof.Dr.techn. Reinhard Haas
Duration: 4 Semesters
Location: Vienna & Bruck/Leitha
Structure: part-time, blocked modules
Next Program Start: 4. November 2021
Application Deadline: 30. June 2021
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