Hydrogen is considered the gas of the future, which is to become the main tool for the transition to a low-emission economy. The first commercial green hydrogen electrolyser in the Czech Republic is being launched by Solar Global, one of the leading players in domestic renewable energy. Its equipment receives electricity from a solar power plant installed on the roof and facade of the Solar Global headquarters in Napajedle in the Zlín region.
As the company informs on its website, the electrolyzer is powered by a power plant with a capacity of 611 kilowatts (kWp). The hydrogen production plant itself has an output of 230 kW and can accommodate 246 megawatt-hours of electricity per year.
The planned annual production of green hydrogen in Napajedle is approximately 30 tons, which represents 82 kg per day. This is enough to drive eight thousand kilometers in a hydrogen passenger car. For example, the Toyota Mirai, which Jan Světlík, the owner of the Vítkovice Cylinders pressure steel cylinder factory in Ostrava, was the first to buy here some time ago. The electrolyser in Napajedle will be replenished by a public hydrogen “refueling” station for vehicles.
“The significant power range of the electrolyzer and its fast power response allow us to adapt to the maximum of variable electricity generation from renewable sources. The green hydrogen produced in this way will be able to be refueled from the gas station in the town of Napajedla not only into trucks and buses, but also into passenger cars with an ecological hydrogen drive,” explained the owner of the Solar Global group Vítězslav Skopal some time ago.
He belongs to the pioneers of renewable energy in our country.
It started building solar power plants as early as 2006, and during the solar boom around 2010, it built almost three dozen of them. It sold some of them, operates some, and bought other solar parks.
In solar energy, an initially small company has grown into a strong group that operates in four other European countries in addition to the Czech Republic.
In 2017, the company commissioned the first domestic high-capacity battery storage at its solar power plant in Prakšice in the Zlín region.
The company was founded with partners by Vítězslav Skopal, today’s main shareholder of the group.
The head of the investment firm did not want to comment further on the project before Monday’s opening ceremony, to which a number of influential businessmen and politicians are invited, led by Speaker of the House of Representatives Markéta Pekarová Adamová and Minister of the Environment Petr Hladík. Their promised participation demonstrates the social importance attributed to the emerging hydrogen economy.
The fuel of the future
Today, hydrogen is commonly produced thermally from natural gas and is essential in the chemical industry and other fields. The traditional process produces so-called “grey hydrogen”. The production process carries a significant emission burden. In contrast, electrolyzers powered by electricity from hydroelectric plants, solar panels or wind turbines produce hydrogen with virtually no emissions.
“Green” hydrogen from renewable electricity is set to become a major tool for the decarbonisation of the steel industry, as it can replace coal coke in the production of pig iron. It can also be used in low-emission transport. At the same time, it has a greater chance as a drive for trucks, buses or trains, while classic batteries are more popular with passenger cars.
Another area where hydrogen is supposed to serve is the storage and production of electricity. Hydrogen storage works by using cheap excess renewable electricity to electrolyze water, releasing hydrogen. Unlike electricity, “green” hydrogen from electrolysers can be stored and can be used at any time for supply to the market, for co-combustion with natural gas or for re-production of electricity when solar and wind turbines are down due to weather.
Colors of hydrogen
In the future, hydrogen is to be used as a sustainable substitute for fossil fuels in transport, energy and industry. It is marked according to the method of production with different colors.
- Green hydrogen is to be produced using solar or wind energy. It is considered emission-free. The EU strongly supports this nascent, not yet commercially used technology.
- Gray hydrogen is produced by chemically splitting natural gas, but the process releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The procedure thus does not reduce the total emission footprint.
- Blue hydrogen is produced by chemically splitting natural gas with the capture and storage of carbon dioxide underground, it is considered low-emission, but the EU does not yet support these technologies.
- Pink hydrogen – this is how hydrogen produced from excess nuclear energy would be referred to. It is low-emission, but the EU does not consider it a sustainable solution that deserves support. Some European states, led by France, are pushing for recognition of its sustainability.
The main obstacle to the faster development of the hydrogen industry is its high cost. Without subsidies, the production of green hydrogen is still unthinkable. Both the European Union and the Czech Republic subsidize hydrogen management, development and research, and hope that the field will be able to get started so that it can play a key role in meeting the goals of the Green Deal. That is also why the electrolyzer in Napajedle is only the first swallow, which is soon to be followed by others.
The Ministry of the Environment has so far financially supported four electrolyzers from the Modernization Fund. “The other two projects are currently being evaluated,” says Lucie Früblingová, spokeswoman for the State Environmental Fund. However, the programs from which hydrogen projects can be subsidized are currently being expanded, and subsidies are expected to increase.
After the facility launched by Solar Global in Napajedle, other projects are planned. For example, the largest producer of “grey” fossil hydrogen in our country – Orlen Unipetrol – is preparing an electrolyzer connected to a solar power plant in Litvínov. He wants to start construction at the turn of 2024 and 2025, and the production of pure hydrogen is to start at the end of 2028. However, Unipetrol will replace only a fraction of its hydrogen needs with this.
“In our refineries, we will produce 90,000 tons of so-called gray hydrogen annually, and in the electrolyzer we will produce 4,500 tons of renewable hydrogen annually. During production, we will combine our own energy from the sun with supplies of green energy from other entities in order to ensure the operation of production even at night,” says Unipetrol spokesman Pavel Kaidl. He adds that the total cost of Unipetrol’s hydrogen investment is “in the order of billions of crowns”, roughly half a billion of which is to be covered by subsidies from the Modernization Fund.
Another electrolyser is planned by the Sev.en Energy group of Pavel Tykač, the owner of the Mosteck mines and coal-fired power plants. Sev.en is preparing a massive construction of solar power plants with a total output of 120 megawatts on brownfield sites in Mostek. The two parks, with a combined output of 45 megawatts, are to power a 17.5-megawatt electrolyser from 2027 with a planned production of 360 tons of green hydrogen per year. According to Sev.en manager Pavel Farkač, the hydrogen system will cost about 700 million crowns, part of which is to be covered by subsidies from the Fair Transformation Fund.
Two years before Sev.en, the company FOR H2Energy, specialized in hydrogen investments, wants to start the production of green hydrogen in the Triangl industrial zone near Žatec. It is expected to have a four-megawatt solar power plant, a four-megawatt electrolyzer and the production of up to 630 tons of green hydrogen per year. Of the estimated total costs of 608 million, 365 million is to be covered by subsidies.
In the Moravian-Silesian region, the hydrogen driver is the Veolia group, which within three years wants to launch an electrolyser as a pilot project in the heating plant in Sviadnov near Frýdek-Místek, powered by electricity from solar panels and biomass.
“It is the only hydrogen project in the Czech Republic that succeeded in an international comparison and was the first ever to receive a subsidy from the EU Innovation Fund to support clean technologies,” Veolia Energie said in a press release last week. The group also plans to produce hydrogen at other locations, for example in Krnov and Přerov.
The hydrogen from the Sviadnov heating plant is to be used mainly in transport, the planned annual production of up to 270 tons per year can ensure the operation of 30 hydrogen buses or six hydrogen trains, according to Veolia manager Arnošt Gross. “Possibly, it can serve as a replacement for gray hydrogen in industry,” says Gross. After a two-year pilot operation, the originally one-megawatt Sviadno electrolyzer is to triple its output in 2028. Veolia then plans to start operating hydrogen buses and, in 2029, hydrogen trains, which are interested in large cities in the region or region.
A number of other investors with Czech and foreign capital are preparing their own hydrogen projects, for example ČEZ or Sokolovská uhelná have them in their strategic outlook.
“Hydrogen is the engine of changes in the energy sector. We believe that it is green hydrogen that will make it possible to decarbonize energy, industry and mobility,” said investor in the first Czech commercial electrolyser, owner of Solar Global Vítězslav Skopal.
However, high costs remain a barrier to hydrogen expansion. And this despite the fact that the price of electrolyzers has fallen by 60 percent over the past 10 years. “For hydrogen production to make sense for us, we would have to reach a price between 8 and 12 euros per kilogram,” says Pavel Farkač from the Sev.en group. “With the subsidy, we can reach such prices, but without the subsidy the price would be around 15 euros, which is high,” he explains.
According to a recent report by the consulting company Boston Consulting Group (BCG), reported by the Oenergetice server, in 2030 the wholesale price of green hydrogen in Europe will be significantly higher than originally expected. According to previous estimates, costs should have fallen to three euros per kilogram of hydrogen by the end of the decade, but BCG expects them to be in the range of five to eight euros. Green hydrogen at these prices would be uncompetitive for most potential applications compared to alternative technologies to decarbonize industry.
According to experts, green hydrogen has the best chance in industry. In transport, its advantage is a short refueling time compared to charging the batteries and a long range. Nevertheless, batteries are gaining ground in passenger cars and buses. In the last two years, some foreign carriers that tested them have abandoned hydrogen trains due to high costs.
Perhaps hydrogen will gain ground in road freight transport, some car companies, including the Czech Tatra, are working on the development of hydrogen trucks. However, electromobility expert Lukáš Hataš is convinced that hydrogen vehicles are a development dead end that will eventually be overtaken by modern batteries.
The use of electrolyzers for storing electricity appears to be the least effective today. The reason is the low efficiency of the process of converting electricity into hydrogen and then back into electricity, during which more than half of the input energy is lost.
To produce electricity again from green hydrogen, really massive surpluses of current from the wind or the sun would have to be available. Domestic climatic conditions cannot ensure such surpluses, so in the future the country will be dependent on the import of green hydrogen from countries that have better conditions for its production. The Czech hydrogen strategy until 2050, which was approved by the Babiš government the year before, comes to this conclusion.