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Could hydrogen be the solution to China's energy security issues?

As China's energy revolution accelerates with the rise of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, officials face the difficulty of storing surpluses in order to integrate these supply into the country's massive power system and assure grid stability.

Could hydrogen be the solution to China's energy security issues?

Hydrogen, the zero-carbon fuel that produces only water when consumed, has a role in power load management since it may be utilised to store energy for future requirements and to fill shortages. because to its eco-friendly uses and applications, it is prominently featured in China's 2060 carbon neutrality goal, and it has attracted attention because to its potential in helping China's energy security needs.

What you need to know about hydrogen energy storage is as follows:

What exactly is hydrogen energy storage, and how does it function?

Hydrogen is not only a fuel that provides power when consumed, but it is also an energy storage technology.

Green hydrogen, the cleanest type of hydrogen, is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysers using clean electricity supplied from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

A comparable technique to battery energy storage, which transforms power to chemical energy, involves converting electricity into hydrogen. This is where the concept of hydrogen energy storage comes from.

Renewable energy is predicted to dominate the power system as the globe shifts to clean energy to minimise greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming. Hydrogen energy storage can be utilised to help with the deployment of intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar, as well as to alleviate the problem of power supply fluctuations and seasonal variations.

When renewable energy supply is abundant but electricity demand is low, excess renewable electricity can be used to operate electrolyzer units that generate green hydrogen. As a technique of storing renewable energy, the hydrogen produced can be kept in either gas or liquid form in high-pressure tanks at cryogenic temperatures.

When power demand is high and renewable energy supplies are depleted, such as when the sun sets or wind speed decreases, grid operators can convert stored hydrogen back to electricity to provide a consistent power supply.

What are the advantages of storing hydrogen energy?

In comparison to other energy storage devices, such as batteries, hydrogen can store more energy for longer periods of time without losing power through discharge.

The efficiency advantage of employing hydrogen has significant potential in both seasonal energy storage and short-term load balancing. For example, during the summer, when solar energy is abundant, hydrogen can be produced and stored for months before being utilised to generate power during the winter, when there is less sunshine.

Furthermore, hydrogen energy storage is less expensive than batteries. The cost of hydrogen energy storage per Megawatt-hour (MWh) is only 1,300 yuan (US$188), which is cheaper than the cost of lithium-ion batteries, which ranges from 1,400 to 1,500 yuan, according to a 2021 research from London-based climate consultant The Carbon Trust.

extending hydrogen energy storage is also less expensive than extending batteries because it only requires new storage tanks as opposed to additional lithium or cobalt mines for batteries. It outperforms batteries because it has a lower capital energy cost and a longer storage period


What about the storage of hydrogen energy in China?

China is the world's greatest hydrogen producer, accounting for roughly 30% of worldwide production. However, due to high costs and nascent technologies, green hydrogen accounts for only 1% of the total. The most common source is hydrogen produced by fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.

As China strives for nationwide net-zero emissions by 2060, the importance of green hydrogen energy storage in this campaign has been recognised.

The application of hydrogen in the field of energy storage was one of four primary tasks included in China's first-ever national hydrogen strategy, which was released in March and is a medium and long-term plan for the growth of the hydrogen energy industry between 2021 and 2035. According to the concept, the applications should fully use hydrogen's potential for long-term energy storage while also facilitating renewable energy consumption and electrical grid balancing.

Several demonstration projects have used hydrogen energy storage successfully. The country's first organic liquid hydrogen storage and hydrogen energy storage laboratory opened in northern Shaanxi province in August 2021, and the following month, China's first megawatt-level hydrogen storage cogeneration project completed trial operation in eastern Anhui province.

Water electrolyser providers Shenzhen-listed Sunfly Tech, hydrogen project contractor Shaanxi Construction Engineering Group, and Zhuzhou CRRC Times Electric, which supplies power supply solutions for green hydrogen generation, are among the leading Chinese enterprises in the industry.

Opportunities and difficulties

According to Yao Yao, an analyst at Shanghai-based brokerage firm Sinolink Securities, China's cumulative installed electrolysis capacity could reach 57 gigatonnes (GW) by 2030, based on estimates of renewable power generation and demand for hydrogen energy storage, translating to about 2.3 million tonnes of green hydrogen and a market size of more than 100 billion yuan.

According to the paper, however, difficulties such as technology hurdles and expensive costs remain. Furthermore, the current low penetration rate of hydrogen energy raises the possibility that demand will remain low in the future.

“The implementation of relevant policies is also not as expected. Detailed regulations are still lacking, and uncertainty in the scale of planned promotion also remains,” Yao said.



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