U.S. Representative Mark Takano (D-CA) launched the first bipartisan “Energy Storage Caucus” in Congress in 2019, with a strong focus on battery-type technology. That iteration of the caucus seems to have sputtered out, but now Rep. Takano is bringing the caucus back with a new Republican partner, and all signs point to a broader approach that embraces green hydrogen for energy storage, too.
Takano’s new partner is U.S. Representative John Curtis (R-UT), who has ample reason to go to bat for green hydrogen. Utah’s coal, oil and gas reserves are less than impressive, but the Beehive State does have a good measure of hydropower along with plenty of sunshine and wind.
The renewable energy angle provides Utah with a strong edge in the race to pry the global hydrogen economy loose from the fossil energy economy.
Hydrogen is a ubiquitous throughout the global economy. It is used for everything from zero-emission fuel to food processing and oil refining to ammonia production, pharmaceuticals and personal care products. Hydrogen can be transported by ship, truck railway or pipeline, and it can also serve as a large scale, long duration energy storage medium.
Unfortunately, hydrogen does not occur in nature. It must be extracted from something else. Currently, that something else is natural gas.
Hydrogen can also be extracted from plain water through a process called electrolysis, which involves applying an electrical current to unlock bubbles of hydrogen gas.
Considering Utah’s water, solar, and wind resources, the state could become a leading green hydrogen producer in the U.S.
From a political perspective, Utah’s strong roster of Republican office holders makes it an unlikely candidate for national leadership on green hydrogen. Republicans in Congress became notorious for stifling wind and solar development during the Obama administration, and former President Trump further cemented his party’s reputation by withdrawing the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, among other actions.
Nevertheless, in December 2019 Rep.Curtis introduced House Resolution 5409 in support of energy storage. Called the INVEST act for “Incentivizing New and Valuable Energy Storage Technology,” the bill would have amended the federal tax code to provide utilities with the ability to claim an up-front federal tax credit for new storage facilities, rather than spinning the credit out it years-long increments.
At the time, critics noted that hydrogen was among the laundry list of eligible energy storage technologies specified in the bill. That raised concerns of a loophole that would enable natural gas to wriggle through.
However, much has changed in the short time since the bill was introduced. Interest in green hydrogen began to pick up significantly last year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The pace of green hydrogen activity has continued to accelerate this year, with Utah front and center in the trend.
Utah happens to be the home state of ACES, the Advanced Clean Energy Storage project. Deploying hydrogen as an energy storage medium, ACES was billed as the largest facility of its kind when launched in May 2019, just a few months before Curtis introduced HR 5409.
ACES comes under the umbrella of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems and Magnum Development, and it should go a long way towards allaying fears of a natural gas loophole.
In a joint press release, Magnum and Mitsubishi stated that “the ACES initiative will develop 1,000 megawatts of 100 percent clean energy storage, thereby deploying technologies and strategies essential to a decarbonized future for the power grid of the Western United States.”
In the same press release, Mitsubishi touted its role in transitioning coal power plants to natural gas, but the company also made it clear that the next step is replacing natural gas with green hydrogen. Mitsubishi has recently introduced a new hydrogen package for power generation that is based on green hydrogen production and storage. The package also includes a gas turbine designed to integrate green hydrogen into the fuel stream gradually. Once a sufficient supply of green hydrogen is available, it replaces natural gas entirely.
Magnum comes into the picture as the owner and controller of five massive salt caverns that are currently used to store liquid fuels in bulk. The green hydrogen partnership will complement three other clean energy features of the ACES project, including compressed air technology as well as large-scale flow batteries and solid oxide fuel cells.
Utah is also the scene of Mitsubishi’s first installation of its so-named “Hydaptive” green hydrogen package at a power plant. Based on the success of that trial, Mitsubishi currently has similar projects planned for power plants in New York, Virginia and West Virginia.
All in all, Utah is emerging as America’s secret weapon in the fight to accelerate global decarbonization, and Rep. Curtis seems determined to overcome his party’s obstructionism.
Last week, Curtis joined Rep. Takano in a press release launching the new iteration of the bipartisan Energy Storage Caucus, and he did not mince words.
“I am pleased to announce the Bipartisan Congressional Energy Storage Caucus with my co-chair Congressman Takano— to encourage the production of American clean energy and better environmental stewardship. Investing in the deployment of American technology and resources around the world will reduce global emissions and improve our national security. Storage can, and should, be a part of this effort,” Curtis said.
Interestingly, Takano appears to have shifted his messaging to accommodate Utah’s emerging position in energy storage technologies that do not involve conventional batteries.
In a press release launching the first iteration of the Energy Storage Caucus, Takano focused his attention on battery-type energy storage, emphasizing that “battery energy storage is the future of renewable energy."
“We must explore battery energy storage and invest in it to improve America’s energy infrastructure,” Takano also said, while thanking his former co-chair Representative Chris Collins (R-NY) for “helping me lead the Advanced Energy Storage Caucus to advocate for policies that promote battery storage technology.”
Takano has taken a far more expansive approach with the new bipartisan Energy Storage Caucus. Last week’s press release mentioned the need for “robust battery storage technology,” but Takano carefully refrained from including any reference to batteries in his quotable statement.
Curtis also took a broad approach, emphasizing the key role of energy storage in decarbonizing the global economy while supporting national security goals, without mentioning battery-type technology.
Republicans in Congress have a long way to go before they can take any credit for kicking the U.S. energy transition into high gear, but virtually every state in the nation has the resources needed to carve out space in the green hydrogen sector. If money talks — and it does — Utah will not be the only traditionally “red” state to help kick the U.S. into the sustainable hydrogen economy of the future.
Image credit: Arturo Rivera/Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.