There’s a lot of chatter about hydrogen energy, which seems a great unknown for many. So we take the facts and break it down to give you the hydrogen-ius low down!
Making energy from water is nothing new. From watermills to hydropower dams, hydrogen power is the more complex cousin to our long history of water mastery. So, what the heck is it, anyway?
Hydrogen power explained in 30 seconds
Most of us learn water is two parts hydrogen – the lightest element – and oxygen. For centuries, we have known that hydrogen can produce energy, but we haven’t had the technology to use it to its full capacity. Until now.
As conversations about climate change and decarbonisation continue to make headlines, the global focus is firmly on finding energy production solutions that don’t contribute to greenhouse gases.
DID YOU KNOW: Have you heard of governments around the world committing to reducing carbon emissions, commonly referred to as ‘net zero’? This is the role of decarbonisation, which is the removal or reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide we put out into the atmosphere. Many companies and industries that have committed to becoming carbon neutral will decarbonise by switching to low-carbon energy sources.
Cue green hydrogen. More on the colours later, but first, let’s look at how we end up with energy.
South Australia’s hydrogen power plant will use clean energy from solar panel and wind farms to take water (H2O) and split the elements into oxygen and hydrogen by a process called electrolysis. To simplify, it takes the H2 away from the O and water and heat are the only byproducts of hydrogen energy production.
Watch this video by the Office for Hydrogen Power SA explaining Green Hydrogen production:
There are a few steps in hydrogen production
Look, we’re not here to tell you creating green hydrogen as an energy source is simple, because if it was, we probably would have done it years ago. But let’s skip the technical sciencey stuff and strip it back to three basic steps.
- Green energy
The excess renewable energy from South Australia’s solar and wind farms powers an electrolyser – a device that uses electricity to split water molecules – through a process called electrolysis which leaves us with hydrogen and oxygen.
Once electrolysis is complete, the hydrogen is stored so it can be used when to fuel the power plant to produce electricity when it is needed most.
What happens to the oxygen you ask? Well, the oxygen is an important product that can be used in industrial facilities.
- Transportation and fuel cells
Hydrogen can be transported as a gas or liquid or used to power cars, trains and potentially ships, used to make ammonia for fertiliser production and for other residential and commercial uses. It can also be used to fuel power generation that can be turned on when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.
The rainbow of hydrogen: what do the colours mean?
You may hear of hydrogen referred to as a colour. Hydrogen can be created through various compounds – not just water. So, when it comes to the hydrogen rainbow, the colours are linked to how it was created.
Here’s a quick rundown:
How will hydrogen be used?
Hydrogen can be used to decarbonise household gas supply to reduce a home’s carbon emissions, which we’ve already seen in action at Hydrogen Park South Australia.
Maximising our renewable energy production in SA allows us to produce enough energy for our state and have enough left over to produce hydrogen for use in SA and elsewhere in the country and beyond.
What does this mean?
Sam Crafter, CE Office of Hydrogen Power SA, says our state is ahead of the game with its combination of wind and solar which enables us to capture the first-mover advantage in hydrogen production. This puts us on the path toward 100% renewables as an energy source by 2030.
“South Australia’s rich history of advancing clean energy technologies has resulted in over 70% of the state’s electricity being generated by renewable resources in just over 15 years,” Mr Crafter says.
“With vast expanses of land, high quality wind speeds and solar radiation – much of which is coincidental – South Australia is primed to become a world-class, low-cost green hydrogen producer.”
Enough science. What’s next for SA?
The new hydrogen power plant and production facilities are set to be built by December 2025, near Whyalla and will create new jobs in the area as it captures the benefits from the energy transition happening in the region.
The project allows SA to take the incredible work that’s already been done with renewable energy, to produce an additional transportable and storable energy source.
These upgrades to the Upper Spencer Gulf will make South Australia a global hydrogen production centre and exporter meaning the planet is in better shape for future generations and, as a bonus, we’re leading the globe when it comes to best practice in sustainable renewable energy production.