The NSW government financed the first power plant with a fuel duel capacity of AU $ 83 million (US $ 64 million). The Tallawarra B project will initially run on natural gas, but will be gradually upgraded to burn green hydrogen in the coming decades.
This will be a “peak” plant of more than 300 megawatts, which will lie dormant most of the time and will then be activated quickly to stabilize the power grid during peak demand. It will be in operation in 2023-24, providing sufficient power at maximum power to supply around 150,000 homes, and is part of a move to replace grid power that will be lost when the Liddell coal plant is shut down, which is scheduled for 2022.
The expansion to the current Tallawarra plant will begin with the burning of exclusively fossil fuel, in the form of natural gas. But EnergyAustralia, which will own the plant, has committed to offset all emissions from the project over its operational life, as well as to “offer to buy” 200,000 kg (440925 lb) of green hydrogen per year from 2025, which it will be mixed with natural gas in a proportion of 5 percent by volume to start.
“What is particularly exciting,” says Catherine Tanna, managing director of EnergyAustralia, “is that further engineering studies will see whether the amount of green hydrogen can increase, which will provide additional support to the Port Kembla Hydrogen Center.”
O The Australian government has been focusing especially on natural gas in its decarbonisation strategy, much to the dismay of green energy advocates, who view any government investment in fossil fuel power generation as a setback and a poor use of public money, since renewable energy sources and energy storage options green-scale networks are rapidly dropping in price.
The problems are complex; Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, argued that gas power generation is much cleaner than coal and that the use of gas to reliably stabilize peak loads will make the adoption of renewable energy faster, easier and more reliable across the country.
Batteries are great, says Finkel, and so are hydroelectric and other energy storage solutions, but their capacity is limited and better suited for peak smoothing than to avoid power outages altogether. You would need non-viable batteries to keep the lights on if an extreme weather event lasting several days closes wind farms and severely reduces solar production.
In addition, these new dual capacity gas plants can be gradually converted to run on 100% green hydrogen, which will provide a service level similar to that of natural gas. And the fact that EnergyAustralia has already signed a contract to buy 200,000 kg of green H2 will provide a contracted customer for incipient green hydrogen producers, helping to get this industry up and running, ready to scale and prepare for exports.
On the other hand, as Renew Economy argues, the energy density of hydrogen by volume is much lower than that of natural gas. Therefore, adding 5% hydrogen to the mix will do almost nothing to reduce emissions from this plant, and you would need to increase that proportion to 75% just to achieve a 50% drop in total emissions. EnergyAustralia’s commitment to offset all its emissions may not be worth the paper it is printed on if Australia’s flawed carbon offset systems they are not fixed and the company has no contractual obligation to fully convert this plant to 100 percent H2, never.
Even the language of the press release – “further engineering studies will see if the amount of green hydrogen can increase” – goes out of its way to be evasive, and it is unclear how much engineering work is needed, since other hydrogen gas projects in Europe there seems to be no problem in making the 100 percent H2 operation the ultimate goal.
Anyway, this plant will be built and is a model that the Australian government wants to spread throughout the country. But with private business and investment becoming increasingly suspicious of fossil fuel generator projects, it appears that the conservative governments in Australia and NSW are very interested in intervening and using public money to direct things back to the fossil fuels, even when the free market and the rest of the world are moving in the opposite direction.