Updated: Sep 1
DOWNEY, Calif. — With a chic minimalist design and xeriscaping, the two-story home on Firestone Blvd. in Downey looks like a lot of other modern residences popping up around the state. It’s what’s next to it that is completely unique.
The [H2] Innovation Experience, as the home is called, is the first in the nation to be powered with a hydrogen-fueled microgrid that uses solar panels to renewably generate hydrogen from water with zero emissions. That hydrogen is then used by a fuel cell to produce electricity that powers such things as lights and electronics and is also blended with natural gas to fuel a tankless water heater, clothes dryer, range top, oven, fireplace and barbecue.
“This is a prototype to demonstrate the art of the possible,” SoCalGas President Maryam Brown told Spectrum News 1. The [H2] Innovation Experience demonstration house is built at the utility’s Energy Resource Center, where many of its component parts were trucked in with hydrogen-powered big rigs. “Hopefully there are more opportunities to build this in different locations in the state.”
SoCalGas has set a target of becoming carbon neutral by 2045 — the same year the state of California has targeted to become net zero. As the natural gas provider for half of California, SoCalGas has a large role to play in decarbonization if it can replace the fossil fuel that currently serves as its primary commodity with a renewable replacement, thus the [H2] Innovation Experience.
A demonstration project, the home will not be lived in. Rather, it will serve as a proof of concept for homes of the future and to showcase what’s possible for the utility now as it transitions away from the natural gas that has been its lifeblood. From the water heater and stove to a fireplace and barbecue, all of the appliances in the home that would normally be powered with natural gas are instead fueled with a blend of 80% natural gas and 20% hydrogen.
Hydrogen is more sustainable than fossil fuels because it can be made without generating any emissions and makes only water vapor when producing electricity.
“Eliminating emissions from buildings is not an insignificant action,” Lieutenant Gov. Eleni Kounalakis said at the [H2] Innovation Experience opening. “Commercial and residential buildings generate an estimated 25% of emissions statewide. By slashing emissions from buildings using clean energy like solar and green hydrogen, we can take a major step in reducing emissions across the state.”
The solar, hydrogen and natural gas systems at the [H2] Innovation Experience are part of a microgrid that was constructed right next to the 2,000-square-foot house. Unlike a traditional power utility, a microgrid is a decentralized system that can power a neighborhood as opposed to an entire city. The microgrid SoCalGas is now operating in Downey is large enough to support at least 100 homes.
The [H2] Innovation Experience is one of several SoCalGas hydrogen projects. The utility is also working with the fuel cell company Bloom Energy to blend hydrogen into the heating system at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Sunline Transit in Palm Springs operates its buses on hydrogen that SoCalGas delivers.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy released a notice of intent to provide $8 billion to fund regional clean hydrogen hubs nationally as called for in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law President Biden signed in 2021. The so-called H2Hubs would create localized networks of hydrogen manufacturers, infrastructure and consumers in an effort to accelerate hydrogen’s use.
The $8 billion will be spent over the next five years to support the development of four or more H2Hubs that can demonstrate clean hydrogen’s production, processing, delivery, storage and use as a model for a clean hydrogen economy.
California is likely to be one of those H2Hubs. SoCalGas is in the process of developing a first-of-its-kind project for the state called Angeles Link, which will supply hydrogen to a variety of industries, from power plants and heavy-duty manufacturing to transportation fueling stations and energy storage.
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