Italian energy giant Enel is accelerating its plans to decarbonise its global power production, exit coal and make way for more wind, solar and a hydrogen venture, which could come to life in 2021 at the latest.
Enel expects to be producing green hydrogen within a year, with likely sites for its first wind and solar farms with electrolysers seen in the US, Chile and Spain, said Antonio Cammisecra, the company’s head of global power generation.
Green hydrogen represents a “fantastic complement” to electrification, allowing to accelerate decarbonisation in sectors where electrification is difficult, Cammisecra said in a press briefing.
The utility is scouting for projects – both in its 40GW renewable energy development pipeline and its vast fleet of operational wind and solar plants. While the company sees potential opportunities in all markets where it has a presence, Cammisecra believes its first green hydrogen production sites are likely to be in the United States, Chile and Spain.
Amid continuing research and development investments, he expects the cost of using electrolysers to produce hydrogen from renewable electricity will become “very competitive” in the next few years.
He stressed that hydrogen must be produced from renewable energy to contribute to decarbonisation, adding: “Any other form of hydrogen is just a trick.”
A market for hydrogen
These countries share characteristics such as strong renewable resources that are competitive with other generation sources, ample space and a market for hydrogen. For example, both miners in Chile and oil refiners in the US could use green hydrogen to clean up industrial processes, Cammisecra suggested.
The US, Chile and Spain also have regulatory frameworks that allow renewable energy producers significant opportunities to provide grid services, boosting the green hydrogen business case. “An electrolyser can be easily turned on and shut down, so when coupled with a [variable] source source such as solar or wind we can dispatch power in a much more fruitful way that is useful to the grid,” Cammisecra explained.
Although Enel’s hydrogen projects are still in the development phase, Cammisecra said the company can move quickly to produce green hydrogen, noting that it is relatively easy to add an electrolyser to a good wind or solar project.
He said he does not share the vision of the massive, gigawatt-scale green hydrogen projects that have been announced recently. “It’s a market you have to open. We have to convince new customers why they might want to buy something that in the beginning could be more expensive,” he said.
While the scale of green hydrogen projects will depend on both the market and technology developments, he envisages an “ideal setup” with a renewable project of about 300-400MW combined with a 100MW electrolyser, “so pretty much in line with what we do with batteries, where there’s a 20-25% ratio between storage and maximum capacity.”
Not diving into offshore
As Enel prepares to begin green hydrogen production, it is also developing projects for floating solar installations in the reservoirs of its hydroelectric plants and participating in tidal energy pilot projects.
It has not ventured into offshore wind, however, and Cammisecra reiterated Enel currently has no plans to do so.
In countries the company has been historically present, such as Italy and Spain, wind resources are simply better onshore. More than that, however, Cammisecra said the longer development period required for offshore projects means investors are more subject to regulatory and market changes than suits Enel.
Cammisecra stressed that the company is nonetheless a keen observer of offshore developments and “very curious about the technological interaction” between onshore and offshore.
Indeed, he says the onshore and offshore divisions of turbine manufacturers do not share information enough.
Offshore and onshore “have so many things to learn from each other. Offshore should learn to become more cost-effective, much leaner than it is now,” he said.
Onshore “should learn to improve reliability, which can dramatically reduce downtime and the cost of servicing.”