San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) submitted a proposal with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for a demonstration project on the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) campus to study how blending hydrogen with natural gas in the existing gas system could help achieve a successful energy transition for all Californians.
The project is part of SDG&E’s multi-pronged sustainability strategy to explore the feasibility of emerging technologies to rapidly decarbonize multiple economic sectors – from buildings and transportation to industrial and manufacturing processes – to help California reach its carbon neutrality goal by 2045.
If approved by the CPUC, the project would study the feasibility of injecting up to 20% of hydrogen into plastic natural gas pipe, a common material used in the natural gas infrastructure. An isolated section of a gas line serving a UC San Diego apartment complex would use hydrogen blended gas for common building equipment such as boilers and water heaters. Hydrogen used in this study would be produced onsite via a dedicated, grid-connected electrolyzer. The study’s results would help develop a renewable hydrogen blending standard for California.
The project would fulfil a key recommendation in a recent “Hydrogen Blending Impacts” study (sponsored by the CPUC and performed by UC Riverside) calling on utilities to conduct “real world demonstration of hydrogen blending” to fill knowledge gaps that cannot be addressed through modelling or lab experiments.
SDG&E’s proposal comes when the US government is gearing up to invest $9.5 billion in clean hydrogen initiatives as part of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. In August, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act to further accelerate the development of a hydrogen economy, which will provide a new clean hydrogen production tax credit of up to $3 per kilogram.
As part of the project, new pipe would be installed to isolate specific buildings from the surrounding area, along with a hydrogen storage tank, a hydrogen blender, and an electrolyzer that would produce hydrogen by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. The electrolyzer is expected to use about a third of the water an average household consumes in a year. Construction would start in Q2 2024 with blending occurring in late 2024 through early 2026. The site would be fully restored to its original condition upon the conclusion of the project.
Caroline Winn, SDG&E CEO, said, “Developing clean fuels like hydrogen is key to creating a clean, reliable and climate-resilient energy sector, while also stimulating economic and job growth.”
Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla said, “Sustainability and public service have been a key part of the university since its founding. That’s why we are helping to support California’s decarbonization efforts through this pilot project exploring the economical and safe use of blended hydrogen.”
State Senator Ben Hueso, who represents the San Diego and Imperial County areas, said, “California is at a critical juncture in the energy transition where investments in research, development and demonstration of hydrogen and other emerging technologies are necessary to accelerate decarbonization.”