Hydrogen-based Electricity Kicks Off
This month may mark a turning point in electricity production on the Planet. The reason I say this is the recent launch of the first industrial-sized hydrogen-fuelled electric power plant. The facility is located near Venice and has been built by the Italian energy giant Enel. With a capacity of 12 MW, the power plant can meet the needs of 20 000 households. Furthermore, as the hydrogen production is emission free, the Venetians who will first see the benefits of this new technology, will save 17 000 tons of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Isn’t this great? I think it is! The turbines in the power plant are especially designed by the GE and burning hydrogen in them has only two by-products – heat and water vapour – no CO2 or any other green house gas. It is really a good start for clean electricity production (power stations currently account for 21% of the global CO2 emissions), but there are a lot of problems ahead. First of all, Enel’s power plant is a drop in the ocean considering the mass burning of coal and the little use of renewables for electricity production. Secondly, I have the feeling that such initiatives are inescapably entangled in the tentacles of the existing anti-environmental status quo. For instance, the hydrogen for the power plant comes from the chemical plants in the Porto Marghera industrial area nearby, thus making the clean facility dependent on the life of the dirty ones. Besides, the by products of hydrogen burning (vapour and heat) are used to produce steam for the adjacent coal-burning power plant. In other words, we increase the use of clean or renewable sources over time, but the amount of the dirty ones increase too.
It is certainly better that we have this breakthrough in zero-emission electricity production. My hopes are that there will be specially allocated funds on national and EU-level for more projects of such scale. However, I remain cautious as to what extent creating such facilities is used as a cover, while the existing (dirty) concepts about business, profit and environment are reinforced. It is these concepts, I think, that are the enemy in the garden of every true environmentalist.