In a post-coal, carbon-neutral world, hydrogen and renewable energy resources can lead the way in the transition from fossil fuels, a panel of experts said recently in a webinar hosted by the California Hydrogen Business Council.

Supporting the vision of a “fiscally sustainable” future for hydrogen, executives during the webinar offered insights from the perspective of hydrogen end-users in transportation, power generation and industry. 

Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems’ Mike Ducker, vice president for renewables, said hydrogen’s role in the power sector offers longer term potential across the U.S. economy, particularly in the West. 

The nation is completing the first phase of decarbonizing by retiring coal plants and replacing generation with mostly natural gas and renewables, which has reduced power sector carbon emissions by 40% since 2005, Ducker said. The country is now moving into the second phase.

Instead of relying on natural gas to manage the intermittency of renewables, the push today is more toward energy storage, creating an opportunity for hydrogen.

“This is where hydrogen will begin to play a very important and fundamental role in supporting more decarbonization efforts,” Ducker said. 

He articulated four signposts to monitor the transition to hydrogen for electricity starting with the regulatory/legislative environment, identifying locations needing storage, cost of hydrogen production, and availability of affordable and scalable systems.

Mitsubishi co-sponsored a recent study by Energy and Environmental Economics, aka E3, of hydrogen’s potential role. It found that fossil fuel-based hydrogen from steam and methane remains most viable because the economics for producing hydrogen “remain uncertain.” It becomes more cost competitive when combined with carbon capture and storage.

E3 said the most promising sector for hydrogen is in power generation and transportation, and underground storage is less expensive than compressed tanks.

Also participating in the webinar were Ballard Power Systems, Black & Veatch, Plug Power and Nel Hydrogen.