I watched a Scottish Energy Forum’s webinar – The Future of Hydrogen in Scotland – presented by Stuart Mckay, the Scottish Government’s head of hydrogen policy.
My emotions ranged from despair to anger at what I was seeing and hearing.
I am a fiercely proud Scotsman, particularly regarding Scotland’s scientific contribution to the modern world, and after the webinar my mind drifted to what our Scottish thermodynamic giants – Rankine, Kelvin, Maxwell and Watt — would have thought.
The presentation started and finished with this:
I imagined our scientists thinking: “Let me get this straight, we have renewable electricity that we convert to hydrogen, the hydrogen is processed, compressed and used for rail, heavy haulage, and domestic and industrial heating. Surplus hydrogen is also cryogenically frozen, stored and shipped to international destinations. But that is hugely thermodynamically inefficient. Burning gas is around four to five times less efficient than using the renewable electricity in a heat pump (Rankine being particularly vociferous here).
“Batteries are two to three times more energy efficient than fuel cells and developments will overcome current energy density concerns for heavy haulage.
“Yes, and bio-fuels too. Didn’t Network Rail state that for rail decarbonisation the solution will be mostly from extending electrification?
“Use hydrogen for electricity generation. Did I hear that correctly? Why not simply use the renewable electricity?
“He said that surplus renewables can be used to produce hydrogen that can be stored and used for times of renewable curtailment. But that will return less than half of the original renewable energy.
“Have they thought about other higher efficiency storage options and renewable generation that are not weather dependent, such as hydro, thermal, batteries, tidal, compressed air, geothermal, graviticity, abated fossil electricity, bio-fuels, BECCS?
“He said Germany wants molecules not electricity – but wouldn’t it make much more sense to sell them our surplus electricity and let them make their own molecules?
“This clearly doesn’t make any thermodynamic sense? It doesn’t seem to make commercial sense either. I know who we should talk to.”
Part 2 – Rankine, Kelvin, Maxwell and Watt arrange a meeting with Adam Smith