I attended a virtual fireside chat hosted by Mona Dajani, Global Head of Energy and Infrastructure Finance Group Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. The speaker was Paul Browning, President of Mitsubishi Power Americas, Inc. The chat title was Energy Transition, a topic we hear more about every day. But, even though it is a subject much debated in the political arena, Mr. Browning doesn’t feel politics has as much of an effect on the transition of energy away from fossil fuels as we think.
For once, it isn’t about politics
America has lowered carbon emissions by 40% over the last 20 years, and Mr. Browning believes that achievement had very little to do with who is in the White House. Technology and markets, primarily replacing coal with natural gas, have driven the dramatic drop in emissions. They started dropping with President Bush, and they have continued through to President Trump. And, as long as technology is allowed to develop and markets are allowed to run naturally, emissions will continue to go down until we reach that elusive net-zero goal.
But how do we reach that goal? Is it even attainable? According to Mitsubishi Powers’ message, it is most likely not completely attainable, but we can get close with their help. Their message states: Creating a future that works for people and the planet by developing innovative power generation technology and solutions.
Hydrogen is the future
That power, according to Mr. Browning, is hydrogen. Hydrogen makes up three-quarters of the mass of the universe, making it the most abundant element. It produces only water when burned, and its uses are many and varied. It can be used to create everything from electricity, chemicals, food, electronics to fertilizer.
At this time, Mitsubishi Powers does not see hydrogen as a fuel. Natural gas has no immediate competitors in that area, at least not yet. Right now, hydrogen’s power is in storage. It may become a fuel in the future after more advances in technology. They want entirely hydrogen-powered plants, but for now, they are working on the development of hydaptive plants. These are plants built to use natural gas at the onset but are capable of transitioning to all hydrogen over the course of their lifetime.
The chicken and the egg
The main problem with the development of more hydrogen use is one of infrastructure. This is a problem also preventing widening the use of renewables. The hydrogen is going to need massive amounts of pipelines to get it where it needs to be. Some areas, such as Utah, are already equipped to move forward with hydrogen because of the massive underground areas ready to store it. But elsewhere, Mitsubishi is waiting for hydrogen demand to develop before building the underground hydrogen storage needed. But, for demand to develop, there has to be storage available to make it a viable investment. Mr. Browning implied that once this chicken and the egg problem is resolved, hydrogen will bring about the carbon-free future so many people want