SoCalGas and SDG&E outline plan for hydrogen blending demonstration projects in California

Diving brief:

  • Southern California Gas, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southwest Gas this month jointly filed an application with the California Public Utilities Commission to implement hydrogen blending demonstration projects.
  • The utilities intend to use a phased approach to blending hydrogen into utility distribution infrastructure at a level of 5% and above, they said in their application. Experiences from the projects will be used in potential future studies on integrating hydrogen into transmission infrastructure.
  • Using existing natural gas infrastructure to transport hydrogen is being actively pursued around the world, Neil Navin, SoCalGas vice president for clean energy innovations, said in a statement. “This demonstration project provides a real-world environment to better understand how clean fuel blends can be delivered to customers connected to the gas grid today. It can also help us assess how to more quickly deploy advanced technologies critical to the state’s climate and clean air goals, such as neighborhood microgrids that promote reliability and resiliency,” Navin added.

Overview of the dive:

In November 2020, a utility group filed a similar request with the commission seeking permission to create memory accounts to record costs related to a hydrogen blending demonstration. However, regulators ultimately rejected that request and recommended that utilities work more collaboratively with other stakeholders, including the California Energy Commission and the University of California Riverside..

The new app addresses some of those concerns and will help “examine the current policy and technical status of hydrogen as an energy source,” according to the utilities. The filing seeks approval to create balancing accounts for each utility to record costs related to these projects, which will focus on hydrogen blending in insulated polyethylene plastic, as well as distribution systems for steel and plastic pipelines.

The utilities expect the projects to help inform potential revisions to California’s standard renewable gas interconnection rate. Current knowledge and testing limitations prevented them from proposing a system-wide hydrogen injection standard that would allow higher amounts of hydrogen without affecting safety and reliability, they said.

However, Rebecca Barker, associate attorney at Earthjustice, said the projects are “an expensive distraction” when the state could electrify its building sector instead.

“[Y]ou can already electrify [commercial and residential] buildings instead of spending millions and millions on continuous research for something that is kind of a no-win solution,” she said.

Barker, however, sees a role for hydrogen in the clean energy transition – the limited supply of truly green hydrogen will be helpful in decarbonizing hard-to-electrify sectors, such as shipping, aviation, highly industrial processes and long trucking. distance, she said.

Last July, the CPUC released the results of a report it commissioned, conducted by the University of California, Riverside, on the impacts of hydrogen blending in the existing natural gas system. The study found that while hydrogen blends up to 5% are generally safe, blending higher levels of hydrogen into pipelines increases the risk of leaks and embrittlement of steel pipelines, and may require modification of appliances such as stoves and water heaters.

Hydrogen mixtures that exceed 20%, meanwhile, create a greater chance of penetrating plastic pipes, increasing the risk of gas ignition outside the pipeline. Additionally, due to the low energy content of hydrogen gas, more blended hydrogen gas will be needed to deliver the same amount of energy to customers, according to the study. He concluded that the state will need to further investigate hydrogen blending to ensure it can be done safely.

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