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Transforming Legacy Assets to Renewable Hydrogen Energy

Fossil fuel power stations are increasingly viewed as legacy infrastructure through the lens of the ongoing energy transition. Retiring a coal plant can be costly in terms of decommissioning and deconstruction work and may release harmful elements that are kept in check at the facility. These elements could be asbestos, PCBs, lead, and coal piles that may have affected surface soils.

Most importantly, complete decommissioning of a legacy fossil fuel power plant may spark negative stock prices, market value collapses, painful loss of tax revenue, and jobs in communities where fossil fuel legacy plants are the biggest employer.

This tells us that a sustainable transition from fossil fuels to clean energy is not an abrupt process where you forcibly close the old and start the new. Instead, the best approach is to transform it into a green hydrogen energy plant.

Hydrogen is the fuel of the future.

Hydrogen is the fuel of the future. The science behind this contention is straightforward. It is a highly flexible secondary fuel to effectively utilise the full potential of intermittent renewable resources. Hydrogen also possesses the highest heating value as compared to other commercially available petroleum-based fuels and significantly, its combustion product is only water. Now with Green hydrogen, it seems that we have found a way to reduce carbon emissions and insure our energy needs against depleting fossil fuel reserves. Demand for green hydrogen is going to be sky-high that by 2050, green hydrogen is slated to supply 24% of Europe´s energy needs and gather $11 trillion in investment.

Transforming legacy fossil fuel power plants into green hydrogen is gaining currency worldwide. For example, Moorburg, a fiercely opposed coal power plant that opened in 2015 in the German port city of Hamburg, is now on track to become a green hydrogen power plant. Operated by Swedish utility Vattenfall on the banks of the Elbe River, Moorburg’s next achievement is that it will soon become one of the first 100-megawatt scale green hydrogen sites in Europe.

In the US, the Burbank Water and Power (BW&P) of the Burbank City California in California, is on the frontline of such change too. BW&P is bringing its old

coal-fired power plant into the sustainable future ecosystem. It will switch over the coal plant with state-of-the-art natural gas turbines ready for 30 percent green hydrogen co-firing. Those turbines and the rest of the plant are being future-proofed, engineered by turbine manufacturers to be 100 percent green hydrogen by 2035.

From Canada to Utah to Brazil, there’s a growing preference to transition legacy power plants into green hydrogen facilities rather than carry out costly decommissioning of legacy power plants. Transitioning legacy power plants into green hydrogen has clear financial benefits. Often, these power plants are located on sites that, if properly remediated not completely decommissioned, are the real estate equivalent of a treasure chest for other industrial operations. The transportation and utility infrastructure associated with these sites, along with the large parcels of flat land, is very attractive to corporations seeking new hydrogen power industrial operations.

Using existing fossil fuel power stations to shift to green hydrogen sites will not only reduce development cost but also help to open more job opportunities to new and existing workforce. Naturally, as Malaysia shifts to clean, cost-effective, and sustainable energy sources, job demands will change and present requirements for some familiar but mostly new set of expertise.

The benefit of this to incoming green hydrogen operations is that the local workforce is reasonably well trained and eager to find new jobs. In addition, the community will be keen to transition the aging assets of the power plant with new low-cost, zero-GHG green hydrogen. Green hydrogen facilities will therefore provide old plants’ workforce with job opportunities, as well as new workforce which may include specialist roles such as innovative grid-connected energy systems modeler and developer, hydrogen and industrial systems analyst, researchers, engineers and scientist are needed to grow the new facilities to meet energy demands. This way, the hydrogen energy plants will offer employment opportunities while tackling the climate crisis.

Within the transportation sector, the use of hydrogen could very well displace the traditionally dominant fuel, liquid petroleum which meets 38.5% of the sector’s energy demands. Research indicates that blending hydrogen with natural gas or liquid petroleum products improves the lifespan and efficiency of the internal combustion engine. On the other hand, the industrial sector uses 28% of the total energy (petroleum, coal, electricity, and natural gas) as a burning gas in areas like furnaces and boilers. Since hydrogen blending improves combustion efficiency, it would be a great way to reduce carbon emissions too.

For Malaysia – a country with ambitions to cut 45% CO2 emissions by 2030 – embracing hydrogen as the next best renewable energy alternative is the most optimal way of moving forward and achieving these goals.

For Malaysia – a country with ambitions to cut 45% CO2 emissions by 2030 – embracing hydrogen as the next best renewable energy alternative is the most optimal way of moving forward and achieving these goals. The focus is in line with the global energy sector’s shift from fossil-based systems of energy production and consumption – including oil, natural gas and coal – to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, hydrogen as well as lithium-ion batteries.
With a well-articulated and strategised roadmap and plans underway to shift legacy power plants into green renewable hydrogen facilities, the future is ripe for even more exciting possibilities in the years and decades to come for the Malaysian energy landscape.

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