« Back The Renewable Energy Transition – is Green Hydrogen a Viable Solution for ASEAN countries?

by Ryuji Maruyama, Corporate Representative – Asia, Toshiba Corporation & Managing Director, Toshiba Asia Pacific Pte. Ltd

More recently, with the climate changes and active promotion of environmental awareness, I have witnessed a heightened sense of urgency to harness the benefits of renewable energy. I grew up in Japan and since 1960s, the country has shifted from relying on traditional coal and hydroelectric power to other forms of energy resources.

The increasing adoption of renewable energy and the liberalization of the power industry is expected to fuel demand for energy aggregation services that integrate and adjust the balance of supply from distributed renewables & storage and demand from industrial, commercial and residential sectors. While renewables like hydro, solar and wind power are widely known, an energy source that is gaining momentum as a highly versatile energy source of tomorrow is hydrogen, particularly green hydrogen.

By building partnerships between governments, organizations and infrastructure suppliers, green hydrogen not only has the potential to support the transition towards a decarbonized energy system met out by government policies and climate agreements, but also finds valuable applications in disaster relief, mobility devices, off-grid and mobile solutions.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that today’s hydrogen supply is produced almost entirely from fossil fuels, with 6% of global natural gas and 2% of global coal going to hydrogen production. This production of hydrogen is responsible for CO2 emissions of around 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

Green hydrogen, on the other hand, uses renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and water to electrolyze hydrogen from water, and stores and uses the hydrogen in fuel cells to provide a stable delivery of CO2-free, environmentally-friendly electricity and hot water.

IEA states that while less than 0.1% of global dedicated hydrogen production today comes from water electrolysis, with declining costs for renewable electricity, in particular from solar and wind, there is growing interest in electrolytic (green) hydrogen.

In ASEAN, countries are committed to reduce emissions intensity, pledging to contribute to the region’s overall energy intensity reduction target of 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. Some governments in Asia have already taken the lead in policies and regulations to promote the use and implementation of green hydrogen as a renewable energy source.

In Singapore, for example, being land and resource scarce, some methods adopted to reduce the city-state’s carbon footprint include adopting more efficient power generation technologies, and looking towards renewable energy, primarily solar.

Safety is a challenge, especially in highly urbanised areas such as Singapore. Hydrogen itself is highly flammable and even tiny sparks generated by static electricity can ignite it.

Singapore started test-bedding in 2017 off Singapore’s coast on Semakau Island to explore the viability of hydrogen storage to deal with the limitations of solar power.

Today, hydrogen is being test-bedded as a potential clean energy solution in Singapore. In 2019, SP Group, a leading energy utilities group in the Asia Pacific, successfully established the first zero-emission building in Singapore and Southeast Asia that is powered by green hydrogen.

The technology was supplied by Toshiba’s H2One™, a Hydrogen-based Autonomous Energy Supply System that can produce hydrogen, which can be stored for later use with Fuel Cell technology.

The system uses special metal alloy as a storage medium to bond with hydrogen, allowing for the storage of a large volume of hydrogen at a much lower pressure over a long period of time without any deterioration. When electricity is needed, the stored hydrogen is released in a slow and regulated manner, making it safer and more compact to be stored in an urban setting.

As an off-grid solution, an autonomous hydrogen energy system provides a stable energy supply that does not rely on diesel power generation or the grid, and is not affected by climate conditions – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Neighboring countries like Indonesia and Philippines are also exploring green hydrogen to supply stable and low-cost energy for its many islands.

Indonesia, which consists of more than 10,000 islands, has the challenge of supplying stable and low-cost energy for each island, and has a power supply business plan called “Rencana Usaha Penyediaan Tenaga Listrik (RUPTL),” which aims to increase its total power generation capacity rate of renewables from 12.52% in 2017 to 23% by 2025.

In the Philippines, half of the current energy supply is comprised of coal and oil-fired thermal power, and is reliant on imports of these fuels. It sees renewable energy as a chance to improve the self-sufficiency of its energy supply and is seeking solutions for isolated islands with low electrification rates, and ways to reduce risk from typhoons and other natural disasters.

In 2018, having concluded memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the National Electrification Administration, a government organization of the Philippines, and the Badan Pengkajian dan Penerapan Teknologi (BPPT), an Indonesian government organization, Toshiba is currently working to assess and implement H2One™ off-grid system as a fuel for power generation in the near future.

Renewable energy serves as an important part of the diversified energy mix, but its output may vary with day, weather and season. Hydrogen puts an end to that uncertainty. Like electricity in a battery, it is stored energy, and can compensate for the instability of supply from renewables.

Unlike batteries, hydrogen does not deteriorate over time, and can be stored for as long as necessary before it is used. Green hydrogen can be used as a storage medium to supply power during these periods.

Widespread implementation of green hydrogen will be accelerated with the advancement of safety, infrastructure and cost efficiencies. By increasing technical advances in hydrogen, the cost of producing, distributing and manufacturing will become more affordable.

A robust track record of safe implementation is essential to boost user confidence and accelerate green hydrogen growth. Infrastructure suppliers should work closely with governments and organisations to understand their unique challenges and provide customised solutions to their problems.

Meanwhile, widespread implementation will take time and we have to consider existing technologies that can help contribute to cleaner energy generation now. In ASEAN, where energy is still mainly generated from thermal power with the usage of coal, oil and gas, existing technologies like ultra-supercritical steam turbines and the usage of AI/IoT for plant efficiencies can be implemented to contribute to a more sustainable energy future.

Toshiba is promoting advances across its entire energy business, including hydrogen as a clean energy source. While we are advancing our technologies in hydrogen, we continue to improve efficiencies of all our energy solutions to realize a low carbon society and stable global power supply by providing the world’s most efficient power generation systems.

Nevertheless, while countries are also seeking to optimise their energy resources distributed across the grid, green hydrogen should be added eventually as a step forward to securing energy independency and self-sufficiency in countries lacking in natural energy resources. This could be managed through a central energy management system which forecasts and balances supply based on energy demand fluctuations and redeploy to other areas to support overall power grid resilience and ensuring sustainability in our energy future.