Decarbonising power with hydrogen

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Q&A with Paul Browning, Mitsubishi Power Americas

As power grids in the US have transitioned from coal-fired generation to a combination of renewables and natural gas, some parts of the country are now retiring their last remaining coal plants and people are asking: what comes next?

Paul Browning, president and chief executive of Mitsubishi Power Americas, is leading his team to develop technologies for energy storage and power generation that will enable the next phase of power sector decarbonisation.

Since Mitsubishi Power and Magnum Development in 2019 began jointly developing the Advanced Clean Energy Storage project, a foundational part of the Western Energy Hub which will convert Utah’s vast underground salt caverns into one of the world’s largest energy storage facilities, there has been a significant increase in hydrogen projects.


Mitsubishi Power is now working on 24 hydrogen pipeline projects with customers across the country. Hydrogen made a splash in 2020, and today, Mitsubishi Power is seeing an unprecedented demand for hydrogen enabled gas turbines.

Here, Paul Browning outlines his vision for the next steps to net zero.

What will the coming phase of the energy transition look like?

It’s exciting that some parts of the power sector are ready to enter the next stage of decarbonisation. They’ve retired all of their coal-fired power generation and are preparing to reduce their use of natural gas to generate power. What comes next will be replacing natural gas with a mix of renewables and energy storage.

Li-ion batteries and green hydrogen will become increasingly important as a means of storing renewable energy and providing dispatchable renewable power when it’s needed.

What are the key energy breakthroughs critical to achieving net-zero emissions?

Today, natural gas plays an essential role in balancing supply and demand on the power grid. If we’re going to use less gas, we’re going to need to be able to store renewable power. So storage is going to be the essential breakthrough.

There’s already been tremendous progress in deploying lithium-ion batteries for short duration storage, but lithium-ion is poorly suited to long duration storage.

And that’s where hydrogen comes in. We will be able to harness and store excess renewable energy when it is not needed, by converting it to green hydrogen using electrolysis. We’ll then use that ‘green hydrogen’ in a combinedcycle power plant or fuel cell to convert it back to electricity when it’s needed. By storing the green hydrogen in a salt dome, we can store it for long periods of time in a cost-effective way.

JUST AS NATURAL GAS REPLACED COAL, HYDROGEN WILL SUPERSEDE GAS AS A CLEANER ALTERNATIVE.

Why is long-term storage such an important part of the future energy landscape?

Most people are aware of the need to generate solar power during the day and store it for use later the same day. But due to weather and seasons, the power grid also has large week-to-week, month-to-month and season-to-season variations in both supply and demand. Long duration storage will be needed for storage durations ranging from eight hours to eight months.

What opportunities does the energy transition present for the power sector?

PV solar, onshore wind, offshore wind, hydropower and other renewable energy sources continue to present huge opportunities. Falling costs make clean energy increasingly attractive. But intermittency challenges mean it’s not simply a case of adding more renewables.

The purpose of green hydrogen for power generators is to store surplus renewable energy on a massive scale.

At the moment, producing green hydrogen is the lowest cost way to store renewable power at scale for long periods of time, and early adopter projects are being kicked off. Scaling up today’s modest electrolysis industry will reduce costs – much in the same way scale brought down the cost of PV solar, onshore wind, and lithium-ion battery storage – and enable widespread adoption.

How do you see the relationship between natural gas and hydrogen, as fuels for power generation, developing?

Just as natural gas replaced coal as a cleaner supporting fuel for renewables, in time hydrogen will supersede gas as a cleaner alternative.

The fundamental difference though is that natural gas is a power generation fuel, and green hydrogen is a form of long duration energy storage. As the electrolysis industry scales up and the hydrogen storage and transportation network is built, we will see a transition from natural gas to green hydrogen as the source to balance supply and demand of power.

Mitsubishi Power has developed gas turbine technology capable of using both natural gas and hydrogen. The hydrogen content will increase over time, allowing customers to gradually replace natural gas with this cleaner fuel.

Using the same power plant, at the turn of a dial, plant owners needing more natural gas today can be ready to use more hydrogen in the coming years. That means a gas turbine starts its life as a power generation source and transitions to an energy storage source.

More thoughts from Mitsubishi Power

Want to hear more from Paul Browning and learn about Mitsubishi Power’s plans for hydrogen and energy storage? If so, be sure to check out the POWERGEN+ Series, the latest virtual offering from Clarion Energy’s US-based POWERGEN International conference and exhibition.

Mitsubishi Power is a long-time exhibitor and sponsor at POWERGEN International. With the face-to-face event being postponed until it’s safe for large numbers of people to gather again, Mitsubishi is participating in POWERGEN+ Series as a supporting partner. The September 2020 POWERGEN+ Series theme was “Pushing the Power Generation Envelope.” Mitsubishi Power Americas’ CEO Paul Browning delivered the opening keynote titled ‘Storage Solutions for a Change in Power’. In addition, Mitsubishi Power sponsored a panel discussion called ‘Creating the Hydrogen Future’, featuring Michael Ducker, Vice President of Renewables, Mitsubishi Power, as well as Janice Lin, Chief Executive Officer, Green Hydrogen Coalition, and Paul Schultz, Director of Power External Energy Resources, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

If you liked this interview with Paul Browning, you’ll definitely want to watch these two sessions. In addition, there are numerous free on-demand sessions from the 2020 and 2021 POWERGEN+ Series.

You can learn more about the offerings and access other sessions by visiting the website: powergenplus.com.

POWERGEN International 2022 adds new hydrogen-focused conference track

Hydrogen as a fuel for electricity generation, as well as a mechanism for energy storage, is seen by some as the “holy grail” when it comes to decarbonising and transforming the energy future. It can be used to store, move and deliver energy produced from natural gas, small modular reactors, conventional nuclear power, biomass, wind and solar. New technologies and developments associated with hydrogen are emerging rapidly.

POWERGEN International 2022, which will be on January 26-28, in Dallas, Texas, USA, will include an entire conference track devoted to hydrogen’s role in the future of electricity. Presenters in this track will discuss the latest technologies devoted to the hydrogen future, and the promises and challenges of incorporating hydrogen into the electricity generation and storage sectors. Can hydrogen, the hottest topic in the industry, live up to the high expectations?

POWERGEN’s content team currently is creating content and inviting speakers to present at POWERGEN International. The call for speakers opened on March 1 and will close on May 17. If you’re interested in speaking at the event, please visit www.powergen.com to learn more about submitting an abstract.