A vision for green hydrogen powering remote regions

A vision for green hydrogen powering remote regions

A bold ambition to package green hydrogen to help solve power poverty and reduce emissions could soon become reality.

A bold ambition to package green hydrogen to help solve power poverty and reduce emissions could soon become reality.

This is an issue globally, and very much one in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region, too. Our large population centres are still being relatively well-served by traditional power generation. But we have very large populations dispersed across rural and regional areas. The people living in these areas are disproportionately impacted by the extremes we’re already seeing as a result of climate change. Some are in low-lying areas, others are in mountainous locations, but they’re all relatively remote and they all suffer firsthand from the impacts of climate change, whether it’s rising sea levels, flash-flooding, drought and bushfires.

On top of suffering these direct impacts, many of these people also suffer power poverty, the lack of access to affordable, clean energy. Affordable and Clean Energy is No. 7 on the United Nations list of Sustainable Development Goals – and we have a long way to go to achieve it. In the meantime, an estimated 13% of the world’s population – 940 million people – do not have access to electricity.

Of course, power poverty has a direct link to actual poverty. Many of these people are farmers or fishermen, already suffering from climate change affecting their crops and their catch, and it’s well known how difficult it is to break the cycle of poverty without access to electricity. There’s no refrigeration, so their caloric intake is dictated by what they grow or catch. Education is limited because there’s no light to study by at night, and access to the internet, radio and television is limited or non-existent.

A path to sustainable energy security

These people have the double disadvantage of being directly affected by climate change and by their lack of access to power. We can build them a path out of that in a sustainable way by bringing in green hydrogen generation.

These initiatives will come together best as partnerships, and indeed there are already some under way (more on that shortly). Collaboration is absolutely essential to bring ambitious visions to life.

If we can give these rural and remote communities the ability to generate hydrogen from either solar, wind or even wave power, they can store electricity for use outside of daylight hours, with hydrogen as the vector.

Yes, you can do that with batteries, no doubt. However, the difficulty with batteries is you need an inverter to turn it into standard AC electric power for standard light bulbs, standard fridges and all the other appliances they would want to operate. It’s not as easy to dispatch. Again, I’ll come back to that shortly.

Right now, many of these communities are using diesel generators. They are highly polluting and the fuel is very expensive, which makes it unreliable because either they can’t afford it, or they run out, and perhaps the delivery truck doesn’t get there often. I’m thinking of Papua New Guinea, where there is terrible power poverty. They might have a diesel generator that they can afford to run a couple of hours a day and they can only get a tanker up there once in a blue moon. So you’re using diesel to transport the diesel, and bringing it into an environmentally sensitive area, risking a spill on the way. You can see my point.

The idea here is to retain the existing infrastructure for that diesel generator but give it a new fuel – turn it into a dual-fuel generator, with vastly reduced diesel consumption.

Then at end of life for the dual fuel engine it is swapped out for 100% hydrogen fuelled engine.

A way to ditch diesel

The idea behind this vision is to keep any existing infrastructure that’s been generating power but move it to using green hydrogen as the main fuel, making it stable and reliable and creating a path out of power poverty with the lowest cost, risk and technical requirements.

Green hydrogen is a lot cheaper than diesel. Hydrogen seems expensive to you and I living in a big city because we have access to cheap power generated by coal-fired power stations, and distributed to millions of homes. If we were relying on power generation to serve a few 1000 people – or even a few 100 people – with a diesel generator, that is bloody expensive. If you move from diesel to hydrogen as the fuel, it’s a lot cheaper.

I’m not saying this is a one-stop shop to solve greenhouse gas emissions, but it will be part of the solution. If we move these kinds of communities from dirty diesel generation to clean green hydrogen generation, we solve their power poverty. They are then able to use standard appliances, which are cheaper to buy than specialist DC-powered appliances that connect to batteries, and making that green hydrogen is a lot cheaper than diesel.

Green hydrogen in a box

ABB is part of a group packaging green hydrogen generation plants. Convert your generator into a dual-fuel machine that can run on either hydrogen and diesel, which is a piece of kit you’d get from another company. Established technology already exists to allow this conversion. We keep the engine and the generator, which reduces cost and waste, because we’re not getting rid of something that works, and we do adapt it to accept hydrogen fuel as feedstock.

I’m talking about a team that includes ABB as part of this supply chain. Sustainability and People are two of the ABB Way strategic pillars. This idea ticks both boxes, bringing sustainable energy to people who need it most. We want to be a part of solving this regional issue in Australia and the Asia-Pacific.

There’s a move underway to move blocks of green hydrogen generation in the US and Europe, and ABB is a part of that. That’s great, of course. I’m saying we can take the same approach that they’re taking in those first-world countries, and take the same technology approach to the Tiwi Islands, or Indonesia, or Arnhem Land or Cape York.

Early in 2022, ABB announced a collaboration with Worley and IBM to create an end-to-end solution that can help get green hydrogen assets up more quickly, cheaply and safely.  We’re referring to it as “Green Hydrogen in a Box” and it’s really exciting. That is a perfect starting point for this vision of creating a modular, transportable solution for these power-impoverished remote communities.
>> Green Hydrogen in a Box: What is it? [Courtesy of IBM News]

As I say, hydrogen is a vector – it’s a way of transforming wind, wave and solar energy into electricity with water and oxygen as the by product, so no detrimental environmental effects. Whatever the renewable generation is, we take that and convert it into stable, reliable, storable energy that plugs into the existing infrastructure.

We’re partnering for our energy future, strengthening the hydrogen value chain – and helping people who need it most. ABB is proud to help the world grow more sustainability, follow the new hydrogen ecosystem here and download our whitepaper to learn more about how Hydrogen can help us create a more sustainable future. 

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