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Kurt Adams is the president and CEO of Summit Utilities.
When asked in a recent interview “what is the coolest climate change innovation or technology,” Bill Gates responded that it was green hydrogen. Green hydrogen, once a fever dream of energy geeks, has broken into the mainstream. LD 9, a bill currently before the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee of the Maine legislature, would put Maine at the forefront of the green hydrogen revolution.
Green hydrogen is generated from renewable electricity using an electrolyzer, which separates hydrogen and oxygen. The green hydrogen produced through this process can be stored for long periods of time and then used in power generation, for space heating, or to fuel trains and ships. At its essence green hydrogen is long duration storage for renewable energy.
Electrolyzers are also efficient grid stabilization tools because they can fluctuate production very quickly, potentially mirroring the intermittency of solar and wind generation. For the past two years, an electrolyzer in Ontario has been used for power grid stabilization to smooth out the intermittency of solar and wind generation.
While electrolysis is not a new process, until recently it was a costly way to make hydrogen. Now, thanks to investments by the public and private sectors around the world, electrolyzers are seeing a rapid decline in costs, echoing the declining cost curves we witnessed with wind and solar. One Israeli company that recently attracted investment from Bill Gates believes that it can produce electrolyzers at just 20 percent of the cost of current technologies.
Though Maine’s position with abundant renewable resources is unusual in the U.S., it is not unique in the world. In Denmark, the government just approved the development of two “energy islands” that will generate green hydrogen from gigawatts of offshore wind power. In addition, Germany, Australia and China are among the players that have joined the race to be leaders in green hydrogen development.
Other states and countries will join the race because the stakes are enormous. Space heating, heavy transportation and industrial production are all highly energy intensive and not an easy fit for wind and solar. Stored and concentrated clean energy in molecular form, like green hydrogen, is a better tool for this kind of heavy lifting. Strategy&, a global consulting firm, estimates that global demand for green hydrogen could reach 530 million tons by 2050, “displacing roughly 10.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent (around 37 percent of pre-pandemic global oil production).”
The green molecule is an enormous part of our decarbonized future. Maine can be a part of it.
LD 9 can support Maine’s successful renewable power development and help make Maine a leader in deploying green hydrogen technology. The bill would permit two pilot projects in Maine. By requiring these pilot projects to be strategically located where there is already, or soon will be, solar and wind generation, the electrolyzers will not only produce green hydrogen, they will also relieve pressure on the electricity grid, thereby facilitating the integration of more renewables without costly power grid upgrades.
Maine is a small state with few opportunities to really lead in new technology deployment. However, in this case, we are in a unique position to lead on this technology because our renewable resources are greater than our ability to transmit those resources at all hours. As renewable electric power development has become even more successful, every means of capturing, storing and using renewable energy will be essential to meet our climate goals.
With the passage of LD 9, Maine has an opportunity to lever its unique advantages and lead in the development of a new and groundbreaking technology.