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This Changes Everything – Cheap Hydrogen



As ever it’s possible that Ambrose Evans Pritchard has got a little more enthusiastic than technological changes entirely and wholly imply and yet imagine if this is true:

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are also reinventing themselves, aiming to become mass global exporters of zero-carbon fuels for ships, aircraft, or Asian power plants. Abu Dhabi is already developing desert solar power for $1.35 per kWh, tantamount to free energy. This will be converted into hydrogen by Siemens through electrolysis to make clean synthetic jet fuel. Carbon-free air travel is in sight.

The point here is something that all too many don’t realise. Especially those shouting that something must be done about climate change.

We have two different sets of costs here, Opex and Capex – Operating costs and capital costs. The correct solution is the one, or ones, that optimises the overall sum of them.

So, OK, take cars, just as an example. We can go out and rebuild the entire global car industry and dump a century’s worth of work on the internal combustion engine by replacing all with batteries. This gives us low carbon emissions costs as long as we gain green electricity to fill them up with. It will be a long time, even with that, before they are economic. For that to be true they have to be cheaper than petrol untaxed which is something that will indeed take a long time.

But, OK, that’s a high Capex and low Opex method. The Capex is that we’ve got to entirely turnover the whole global industry in order to get there.

It’s also possible to, in theory at least, imagine high Opex and low Capex methods. Perhaps we might use that green electricity to make green hydrogen which then makes green petrol?

As is obvious the chemistry can definitely be done. Further, the cheaper your hydrogen the lower the cost of building the complex hydrocarbons. Finally, at some level of hydrogen cost it is, overall, cheaper to make the petrol than it is to switch to batteries.

OK, maybe that never does work for cars. But it might for lorries. Or ships. Or the first stage that it’s likely to work for is airplanes. Jets that run on anything other than hydrocarbons are going to be difficult to produce.

That is, make hydrogen cheap enough and we green the global economy by going and making petrol, not by making everything run on not-petrol. Which is interesting and fascinating and the more we get told about how cheap green hydrogen is going to be the more true it becomes.

The only problem will be that it will piss off every Green. For of course the motivation is to abolish the ability of the proles to travel and restrict that to the responsible workers allowed into the Zil lanes. But, you know, amazing what markets and capitalism can innovate around, isn’t it?



  1. Middle East Solar power is vastly more efficient and cheaper than UK based renewables thanks to a more suitable climate and cheap labour. The Opex and Capex optimization works for natural gas (methane) too. It’s cheaper to use that solar power in the Middle East to make methane that can be shipped to the UK using the existing LNG infrastructure than it is to make and store hydrogen using costly UK based renewables where you also need to add the cost of converting all of the UK’s heating to run on hydrogen and heat pumps.

  2. Telegraph: “Abu Dhabi is already developing desert solar power for $1.35 per megawatt hour, tantamount to free energy.”

    Expunct: “$1.35 per kWh”.

    There is a lot of difference between a kilowatt-hour and a megawatt-hour.

    What happened? Retype rather than cut-and-paste?

    Keep safe and best regards

  3. Middle East also has lots of sand & dust, and not very much fresh water.

    Keeping solar panels clean is a major problem, good article on Watts Up re. How much of Spain needs to be glassed over to power Germany. Based on Californian solar farm experince.

    Short answer is: cannot be done, you run out of water to wash, and all the surfactant leaks into the ground and contaminates the ground water. Environmental disaster.

    Making synthetic fuels is hardly new: Apartheit-era SA and 3rd Reich-era Germany did it on industrial scale. But it does need lots and lots of energy. Solar power is too diffuse, and the collectors too fragile (one haboob and it’s all gone). They used coal. If you want to avoid fossil fuel, you’d need nuclear; see Robert Zubrin’s ‘Case for Mars’ to see how it’ done.

    But the rest of the world will carry on using coal and gas, it’s only the stupid self-destructive westerners that wish to return to the stone age.

    NB Anyone know if South America has caught The Green Disease? It’s pretty certain Russia, China, India: indeed pretty much all of Africa and Asia have not, except in a pretend form, for strategic advantage.

  4. “$1.35 per kWh, tantamount to free energy”

    I pay 25p (35c) per kWh for my leccy. How is something costing 4 times as much “free”?

  5. ‘Making synthetic fuels is hardly new: Apartheit-era SA and 3rd Reich-era Germany did it on industrial scale. But it does need lots and lots of energy. If you want to avoid fossil fuel, you’d need nuclear; see Robert Zubrin’s ‘Case for Mars’ to see how it’ done.’

    Yes. Since it’s proven technology, that’s why I prefer it. Texas shows what happens when you invest your money in windmills, not reliable energy sources.

    But I naturally feel that the Africans and Asians have the best approach. They don’t waste any money on the nonsense at all.

    • Regrettably we South Africans have a number of solar generators. Not so many wind generators. The catch being that to export to the EU and US, and to get loans, we have to be (coughing fit) sustainable. The whole country, not just the one farm that produced the can of beans. Extortion, really.


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in British English
expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

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