Oleksandr Riepkin: By 2030, "clean" energy of Ukraine will become unrecognizable

President of the Energy Association "Ukrainian Hydrogen Council" Oleksandr Riepkin told EcoDrive magazine about new opportunities for Ukraine, the rate of change in the energy sector, the use of hydrogen in transport and housing and communal services.


Author: Interviewed by Oleksii Pogorelov,
editor-in-chief of EcoDrive magazine

Hydrogen is an alternative to all fossil fuels. It is an energy carrier that allows you to store electricity efficiently and deliver it when you need it. Why long-distance transportation is primarily considered in transport? First of all, it is economically feasible.

Thus, hydrogen technology allows a truck to travel up to 1800 km without refuelling. In other words, the infrastructure for such long-distance transportation may be significantly less than the current one for internal combustion engine.

The next reason is the environmental friendliness of this transport. In Europe, it is ranked first, and trucks with hydrogen fuel cells will likely be able to come to capitals, many of which are now closed to internal combustion engine vehicles.

And you also need to understand that today we are talking about an intermediate development stage of electric vehicles in the classical sense - that is, with rechargeable batteries. Already all the leading automakers - Mercedes, BMW, Toyota, Renault, VW, Hyundai and others - have announced that they are switching to hydrogen technology. After all, "green" hydrogen is a renewable energy source. We extract it from water, using electricity generated from renewable sources (wind, sun, etc.) for electrolysis. And when hydrogen is used by cars, the opposite reaction occurs - the fuel cell generates electricity for movement, releasing water vapor into the atmosphere. There are no carbon compounds and no greenhouse effect.

Yes, there are losses when converting electricity to hydrogen and then back to electricity - the current efficiency of such a process is about 67% in total. But increasing this efficiency and reducing the cost of the entire process as a whole is just a matter of time, and, moreover, not too much time. Over the next 5-7 years, science and technology will allow both to minimize losses and make hydrogen production much cheaper. Look at solar energy. When we - humanity - began to build the first solar stations, a kilowatt of electricity cost 1.2 Euro. And the efficiency of solar panels was 10%. Today, a kilowatt of electricity costs 0.2 Euro, and the efficiency of converting solar energy into electricity exceeds 28% (one of the latest technological developments allows to obtain an efficiency of 28.7% - Ed.). That is, in 7 years we were able to reduce the cost of a kilowatt of clean electricity 6 times and 3 times to increase the efficiency of its production from the energy of the sun. You will see - it will be the same with hydrogen. After all, huge efforts are being made in the world and in Europe for this.

Hydrogen for housing and communal services and energy

However, hydrogen can also be used as a fuel for combustion. Even so, it does not lead to the formation of any compounds associated with greenhouse gases - it does not enter into carbon compounds. And what is especially important - a mixture of natural gas with hydrogen can be used to operate the current Ukrainian boiler equipment without any additional adjustments and modifications. In this mixture, hydrogen, from a safety point of view, can occupy up to 20% 30%. And this is a decrease in the consumption of a fossil resource (gas) and a decrease in CO2 emissions. In this case, the boiler efficiency does not decrease.

And hydrogen can also perfectly balance the power grid. After all, it is a universal storage of electricity, and, moreover, a storage without losses. In addition to balancing during peak hours, hydrogen will also serve as a replacement for our power plants, which will be out of order pretty soon. After all, the Ukrainian power industry is not young - most of the stations have already exhausted their resource. Some of them have worked twice. The mantra that Soviet engineers designed everything with a threefold margin of safety is, of course, good enough, but there are hardly many managers who are ready to take responsibility for continuing the operation of the station, according to the documents, subject to overhaul or even replacement of equipment. Nobody will invest in the reconstruction of thermal power plants, and no one will invest money for this very soon. The restrictions on financing such facilities are getting stricter, and most of the world's manufacturers have already announced the termination of supplies of the main equipment - turbines - to coal-fired power plants. In other words, the power units will have to be decommissioned.

A good example is Greece, where a 1.2 GW coal-fired power plant was recently decommissioned and replaced by a project to rehabilitate generation in the region. It provides for both the generation of electricity from hydrogen and the export of surplus produced "green" hydrogen to Europe through the trans-Adriatic pipeline. And this pipeline, in turn, will become a chain of a large transport route for hydrogen.

To summarize, the main application of hydrogen is in transport, housing and communal services and energy.

Hydrogen is a big game. But we are at the very beginning of the road

All civilized countries have been preparing for the transition to hydrogen technologies for many years. There was such a project - "Horizon 2020", and within its framework - Fuel Power Cells with a budget of about 2 billion euros over the past 10 years. During this time, about 300 projects were completed, and everything that could be thought of for the formation of the hydrogen market has been done: storage, electrolysis by different types of electrolysers, cylinders for all kinds of pressures (in a simple car, a cylinder is under pressure of 700 750 atmospheres, in a truck - 350 atmospheres).

The next period - until 202  is to put in order the entire regulatory framework for the use of hydrogen: standards, certificates of origin, purity, safety. After that the aim is the formation of requests for the domestic market in order to understand who the main consumer of hydrogen is. And along with this the task is the formation of demand, the adoption of the necessary incentive measures where they are needed (and certain bans can also be incentive measures). And eventually is the definition of the concept of all projects.

In other words, after 2025, we will see how projects that were previously pilot and experimental will be replicated on a huge industrial scale. The source of financing will be the budget of the European Union, as well as programs of the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank, aimed at decarbonizing economies and replacing energy-intensive technologies with energy efficient ones. Until 2030, there will remain the possibility of using both "pure" and non-pure hydrogen, that is, produced using electricity obtained at traditional thermal power plants. However, after 2030, only electricity from renewable sources will be able to be used. But even until 2030, it will be prohibited to burn coal, fuel oil or gas, as before. Carbon dioxide must necessarily be captured and used in related industries.

Hydrogen is a new market for everyone

So far we are at the very beginning of the road, and the work is proceeding with the standards and with the legislation. But very soon everyone will include in the game and after all, the transition to hydrogen will require a huge number of fuel cells, cylinders, service, training and consulting. Today there is no industrial production of electrolysers and fuel cells in Ukraine. And they will be required in the near 5-year prospect, if not earlier. The demand for them will be huge. After all, a household electrolyser and a fuel cell allow a household, a community, and a large enterprise to be energy-independent.

Many Ukrainian companies are already actively entering the European market, offering very competitive solutions - for example, carbon fiber cylinders. After all, hydrogen technology has been familiar to Ukrainian scientists since 1965. It's just that it was classified as confidential because it was used in rocket science. Now imagine what a fleet of hydrogen cylinders will be needed in Ukraine to replace gas cylinders.

In the world has been established the alliance of clean hydrogen - Clean Hydrogen Alliance, which already includes more than 1200 companies that want to participate either in the hydrogen production market or in an adjacent one. There are also Ukrainian companies there, for example, members of the Ukrainian Hydrogen Council include our operator of the gas transmission system, the development company UDP, and in the near future there will be all our factories that produce compressor gas pumping equipment (for example, the Frunze Plant).

Photo: Yevhenii Korol

Ukraine is among the suppliers of pure hydrogen to Europe

Probably not many people know that Ukraine ranks second in Europe in terms of wind energy potential. And we are talking about power plants that are located both on land and at sea on the shelf of the Black and Azov Seas. Their utilization rate will go up to 50%, which is a lot! (In the UK, for example, this figure does not exceed 40%, in France - up to 27%, in the USA - about 33% - Ed.). And we have very comfortable conditions for construction - shallow depths and there are no such aggressive storms as in Great Britain, for example.

Therefore, Ukraine was included in the European strategy for the development of offshore wind energy. These projects will be financed from both European sources and Ukrainian companies. It is also important that we do not ask for any subsidies from the state, therefore, there will be no repetition of the situation that happened with the "green" tariffs.

Moreover, these projects will not require connection to the Ukrainian energy system. Each such project will be like a separate power island - there will be a minimum number of networks, and they will be connected directly with electrolysis production. And hydrogen will be transported in one form or another to where it is needed. Most of our future energy - and especially the future of communities and large enterprises - belongs to such isolated projects, without transporting hydrogen over long distances.

And since Ukraine was included in the European Hydrogen Strategy and registered there as a strategic partner, certain hopes were placed on us that we would supply a certain amount of "green" hydrogen to Europe (about 5 million tons per year until 2030). To do this, we already need to engage in development and enter into consortium with those who have the technology for the production of pure hydrogen - since there is no production in Ukraine. Such consortium is possible with Germany, France and Japan. More recently, one of the companies that are part of our Association signed an agreement with Thyssen Krupp, and the technology for 20 megawatt units became available to them.

In other words, Ukraine will participate in the pan-European market of "green" hydrogen as a producer and supplier - we are striving to occupy this particular niche.

Ukrainian Hydrogen Council will help to enter the European market

The main goal of the association is to be a platform for expert study of this topic and its implementation in Ukraine. We are the only non-EU member states that are members of the European Association. We received associate membership solely due to the work that we carried out and proved that Ukraine is ready for such changes. Over the three years of the work of association, I think the biggest victory was the inclusion of hydrogen as a new energy resource in the economic strategy of Ukraine until 2030, adopted by the Government on March 3, 2021. And the European partners began to consider us as a reliable partner in the supply of "pure" hydrogen, using our infrastructure, our already established trade routes and the border with the European Union (Romania, Slovakia, and Poland).

Now the information intensive of this process is very important. It is necessary not only to understand what companies are producing and what partners are looking for - you need to see everything in the complex: how to create joint consortium, who can be the end user, what technology will be used for transportation, what each cylinder looks like, what standard is needed, and so on. Therefore, we create and fill this base every day, together with scientists from the Institute of Renewable Energy. In particular, we are systematizing information about technologies that are no longer classified as confidential, and we will present them in Europe. And we will involve Ukrainian business so that we have our own production of fuel cells and everything that we talked about.

Of course, we help conceptually with projects that can be implemented, we make presentations of these projects in Europe, and we are looking for partners so that even small start-ups find their implementation.

A separate direction is the communities. Deterioration of power grids, interruptions in the supply of electricity in small settlements - this is both a reason and an opportunity for the use of hydrogen technologies, which make it possible to solve everything in a complex, from power supply to heating. So we have a separate program aimed at developing renewable energy and energy efficiency.

EcoDrive №2 (12) 2021
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EcoDrive is a Ukrainian magazine about eco-innovation, electric and other types of environmentally friendly transport, infrastructure for electric vehicles, renewable energy sources, finance, modern gadgets and novelties in the field of eco-friendly technologies.