Cost and low-carbon competitiveness of electrolytic hydrogen in China†
To quantify the cost and low-carbon competitiveness of electrolytic hydrogen in China, this paper presents a detailed assessment of the levelized cost of electrolytic hydrogen produced by a photovoltaic and grid-based hydrogen system (PGHS). This assessment considers the provincial differences in electricity prices, shares of renewables in power grids, and solar radiations in China. We find that in 2019, the levelized cost of hydrogen (LCOH2) in 31 provinces varies from 31.5 ¥ per kg to 46.8 ¥ per kg in the single electricity price scenario, and reduces by up to 5.5 ¥ per kg when implementing a time-of-use price. In terms of CO2 emissions, we demonstrate that electrolytic hydrogen has greater CO2 emissions than the widespread coal-based hydrogen in 21 out of 31 provinces of China. The results suggest that implementing time-of-use electricity prices and subsidizing photovoltaics, instead of electricity prices and electrolyzers, can improve the performance of electric hydrogen production in terms of cost and CO2 emissions. Further provincial analysis considering hydrogen demand potentials shows that, under stricter CO2 emission constraints, substituting fossil fuel with electrolytic hydrogen can reduce CO2 emissions. However, its popularization is impeded by fossil fuels with low costs. Due to the regional differentiation in the cost competitiveness of electrolytic hydrogen, different types and levels of subsidies should be carefully adopted depending on the provincial characteristics in electricity prices, solar radiations, renewable integrations, fossil fuel prices, and hydrogen demand potentials. In the end, when comparing seven pathways towards electrolytic hydrogen development from 2020 to 2050, we find that the production cost of the electrolytic hydrogen is unbundled from the restriction of CO2 emission requirements after 2030, and a high carbon price may accelerate the cost competitiveness of electrolytic hydrogen by decades.