As part of the hydrogen hype, natural gas plants are trying to convince themselves, cities, politicians and homeowners that they will simply replace natural gas with hydrogen, turn off some appliances, and everything will be peach. Scotland’s SGN promises to convert as many homes in Fife that choose hydrogen.
But there is a problem. Converting a home to hydrogen would probably cost the homeowner well over $ 100,000 USD in excess cost over the 15 year lifetime of appliances if they paid for it themselves and it becomes inevitable.
Hydrogen is much more expensive than natural gas per Gigajoule (GJ). Right now, a GJ natural gas costs about $ 4 USD delivered to homes where I live. In the US, the target they use is “thousand cubic feet”, and a gigajoule is 947.8171 cubic feet, so it’s roughly comparable in terms of energy. California’s home gas supplies are apparently a lot more expensive than Canada’s, about $ 14 dollars USD. We do this on average for $ 10 per. Gigajoule supplied for this purpose.
Hydrogen’s average retail cost to refill in California is $ 15.61 USD per gallon. Kilogram, not GJ. Paul “#hopium” Martin has invented a phrase, the first sin of thermodynamics, which is: “Even if you do not have to compare two kinds of energy just because they have the same units”, but when it comes to using two different gases to burn for heat, the same units actually make sense, so we get them into the same units and compare.
Incidentally, it is gray hydrogen that is produced from natural gas and dumps 8-10 × CO2 into the atmosphere. Hydrogen is not found in the free state. It must be manufactured. If it is produced from natural gas, each tonne of hydrogen produced also produces 8-10 tonnes of CO2. If made of coal, 20–35 ×. If it is made from water using renewable electricity, it throws away 50% of the renewable energy to produce it and distribute it.
The wholesale price for gray hydrogen in California is $ 2 USD per. Kilogram right now so it gets hydrogen for the pump, the cost of the pump and the cost of operating the warehouse and pumps making it 8 times the cost. Lazards’ LCOE for hydrogen makes it clear that the wholesale cost of “blue” or green hydrogen will be double or triple for gray hydrogen. Assuming pipelines are cheaper for hydrogen in the future, we can expect retail costs to fall to $ 10 per tonne. Kg delivered, even when the wholesale cost of hydrogen doubles due to CCS (fault condition) or green hydrogen electrolysis, which takes into account all the variations in, most of which are detailed below.
The energy in a kilo of hydrogen is about 0.12 GJ, so the cost of a GJ heat supplied to homes for retail costs will be in the order of $ 83 USD. It is approx. 8 times more expensive for a heating unit. With a big effort, it might only be 6 times more expensive for a heating unit, but the wholesale price of hydrogen is rising no matter how we decarbonize it, and everyone in the supply chain has to make money, so I’m familiar with 8 ×.
At an average price of $ 10 per. Gigajoule natural gas heating a home for a year would cost about $ 880. Heating with hydrogen would instead cost just over $ 7,400 a year, about $ 6,500 more. It is enough to pay for the heat pump in the first year and also get air conditioning from the heat pump and pay for all electricity costs for heating and cooling.
Then there are utility companies’ urban gas distribution networks. Hydrogen is much smaller and smoother than natural gas. Natural gas distribution networks are leaking all the time. The first major problem is that hydrogen will leak a lot more. Significant retrofitting costs to connect many more leaks than they bother to connect today, where venting high global warming potential methane to the atmosphere is considered acceptable losses. Ventilation 21 × more expensive hydrogen to the atmosphere will change the economy of it very quickly.
The next problem is that the pumps in natural gas systems are hard steel, and hydrogen cracks hard steel. All pumps need to be replaced, although the plastic pipes in modern urban power plants’ distribution systems may be suitable for the purpose. Capital costs come from interest payers, possibly as a special tax for a decade or two. It will probably be in addition to the 8 × cost.
The next problem is that hydrogen is harder for electronics than natural gas, so most sensors in the system also need to be replaced with technician kits.
The next problem is that hydrogen is much less dense, it takes 3 × the energy to push it through pipes like natural gas. It is the rough approximation to the 8 × cost delivered per. GJ, so I just want to say that utilities get this money from taxpayers if this stupidity occurs.
The next problem is that people living with natural gas are already living with a lot of risks that they think are normal. These include gas explosions that kill them and their families, gas leaks that simply cause fires that burn down their houses, carbon monoxide poisoning by incomplete combustion of natural gas that can kill them or their families or simply leave them with severe brain damage and finally laughter gas that causes indoor air pollution leading to cardiovascular problems.
Hydrogen only eliminates the risk of carbon monoxide. All the other risks persist. A lot of careful engineering and building regulations have been carried out to make natural gas safe for use in homes and buildings and need to be redone with inevitable errors for hydrogen. Lots of bureaucracy and an increased incidence of errors over a few years until it gets fixed. Anyone who accepts hydrogen appliances in the first few decades accepts higher overall risks and probably higher insurance costs. Actuaries start with an assumption of higher risk until proven otherwise, then probably higher premiums, but I will not estimate them.
The next problem is that hydrogen furnaces and furnaces do not exist outside of prototypes. No one is manufactured and sold today. None of your current gas appliances work with hydrogen. Again, hydrogen is harder on hard steel and electronics, and firing characteristics are different. Getting a gas stove to work with hydrogen would require replacing almost everything inside the gas stove. Getting a gas stove to work with hydrogen would require replacing almost everything inside the stove. And while they are running, they may need to replace all natural gas lines inside your home. No one is going to renovate existing units at great cost. They will be replaced with newly manufactured units because it is the only way to get the cost down of the stratosphere.
But now we are talking about brand new appliances that do not exist, are not sold by hundreds of thousands yet and do not have any supply chains. Can you imagine how much these dogs are going to cost? My gut tells me they would be 2 × the cost of average current appliances for a decade or two if this silly idea takes hold. Gas stoves cost an average of $ 4,500 USD, so call it $ 9,000 USD for your new hydrogen stove. Gas stoves cost an average of $ 1,000, so call it $ 2,000.
In addition to the annual increase in fuel costs of $ 6,500, you have a large cost expense in the range of $ 11,000.
Here’s your choice: Pay around $ 4,000 for a new heat pump including installation. Get rid of your gas stove and air conditioner (if you have one). If you have a gas stove, you will have to pay an additional $ 1,000 for an induction cooker and an additional $ 500 for induction compatible cookware (you will probably need new pots and pans anyway). The total cost of capital is $ 5,500, half the cost of hydrogen appliances. But you get heating, cooking and air conditioning for the big expense, instead of just heating and cooking.
Your heating bills increase by maybe $ 300 a year with the heat pump because even though they are very efficient, natural gas is absurdly cheap because we use the atmosphere as an open sewer for carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, both of which are greenhouse gases. Your risks with natural gas – explosions, fires, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide – disappear. Your maintenance costs drop a lot because you have one climate control technology instead of two, and electrical appliances are lower maintenance than gas.
Or pay $ 11,000 for new hydrogen appliances, about double the heat pump and induction furnace, and $ 6,500 more in heating expenses per year for the rest of the life of those appliances. That’s over $ 100,000 USD more for your hydrogen over 15 years of life for stoves and air conditioners than if you just switched to electricity, 11 × the total cost of ownership.
There is no future for home heating with natural gas, and the economy of it is crystal clear, so you really have to ask yourself who is trying to sell this absurd idea. And why. When gasworks like Scotland’s SGN say they want to convert the small town of Fife into hydrogen and furnaces, they try to pretend that the brutal economic reality of the situation does not exist.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
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