In a conversation with Energy Voice, vice president and general manager for EMEA at Eaton, Simon Matthieson explained that “the economics have got to be right” for hydrogen to see success.
The power management company’s global product line manager said that the renewable fuel source will also “need to find its niche” before it takes off.
He said: “think the economics have got to be right. If you think about the oil and gas space, I think it’s the economics rather than the government policy.
“I mean the policy also has an impact in all of that, of course, but I think the few that go beyond the UK as well, it’s the economics which is maybe questioned some of that investment post-pandemic as well.
“I think that’s going to be the same for hydrogen. Hydrogen needs support from the government and legislation, but I think it also has to find its niche.”
Mr Matthieson explained that hydrogen “probably isn’t going fuel the cars that we’re going to drive every day because electric vehicles seem to be the solution to that.”
However, Eaton’s global product line manager argued that “maybe” hydrogen could be used for public transport or in the marine sector.
“It’s going to be a big part of that,” said Mr Matthieson, “It’s very difficult to see how it’s not part of that going forward.”
Hydrogen and public transport
Currently, Europe’s oil and gas capital, Aberdeen, has put hydrogen to use in its public transport system, a project that has seen 10 hydrogen-powered vehicles introduced into the existing Stagecoach and First bus fleets across the city.
A collaboration between BP and Aberdeen City Council to bring a hydrogen hub to the north-east of Scotland plans to produce enough of the fuel source to power 25 buses a day plus a range of private vehicles.
Aberdeen City Council and BP’s joint venture to bring a hydrogen hub to the Granite City has submitted planning applications to bring the project one step closer to fruition.
If successful, the plans will involve building a green hydrogen production and vehicle refuelling facility powered by a purpose-built solar farm.
BP was selected in 2021 for a £215m procurement contract to help deliver three phases of the hydrogen project with Aberdeen City Council.
Mr Matthieson says: “As the economics fall into place, then I think we’ll see the adoption, and there is some huge investments going on across the globe.”
Joining in on the conversation, global product line manager, Crouse-Hinds Series, for Eaton, Chris Stubbins added that the economy of scale is something that hydrogen “doesn’t have yet.”
He added: “There’s a milestone in terms of where it becomes cost-effective.”
Wind brings opportunities for hydrogen
Turning his attention to the rapid expansion of wind power, both in the UK and across the globe, the Eaton vice president sees an opportunity for hydrogen.
He said: “We talked around wind farms and the tremendous amounts of wind farms coming up and being established globally, which will also feed the green hydrogen.”
Mr Stubbins continued: “The next point is innovation, as this starts to progress, all it takes is somebody to innovate and that might be a hydrogen engine that is highly efficient and much lighter and cheaper, and the demand will change.”
However, Mr Stubbins concedes that “it’s very much early days” for the fuel source and work has to be done in order for hydrogen to see large scale success.
Mr Matthieson adds: “I think it is going to play a major role in the energy transition and it’s at the point of figuring out exactly what its role is.
Safety and learning from the past
If and when hydrogen finds its niche there are questions to be asked about legislation and regulation of the fuel source.
Often, safety procedure comes from trial and error when it comes to new technologies and sadly that means a lot of the regulations in place come from tragedy.
Many credit the findings of the Cullen enquiry that followed the Piper Alpha disaster that claimed 167 lives on 6 July 1988, for informing the oil and gas industry of safety and by extension, saving many more lives following its publication.
Mr Stubbins said: “When you look at it historically, there has been a number of lessons learned, if you look at the whole certification process, I think that game has come a long, long way.
“Certainly, over the last 10-15 years those processes, when you look at the standards and the standards committees, they’re very attuned to some of those earlier accidents that happened.”
However, this does not need to be the case in the transition to hydrogen, the pair from Eaton said.
from a safety standpoint, Mr Matthieson says “The concept of the safety side of it is really an evolution from other gasses.”
Mr Stubbins added: “It’s it comes down to those standards committees to make sure that they’re run properly.”
Mr Stubbins continued: “If you look at hydrogen in general, it’s very flammable, it’s a very volatile gas, but so a lot of the other sort of gases that we work with and also petrochemicals.
“From a safety point of view, if you look at Eaton, we’ve been in what we call the X industry for over 125 years, so safety has always been our primary function, in terms of safety systems and equipment that goes into the field to help manage that.”