The Technical and Economic Potential of the H2@Scale Hydrogen Concept within the United States

Mark Ruth, Paige Jadun, Nicholas Gilroy, Elizabeth Connelly, Richard Boardman, A. J. Simon, Amgad Elgowainy, Jarett Zuboy

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


The U.S. energy system is evolving as society and technologies change. Renewable electricity generation—especially from wind and solar—is growing rapidly, and alternative energy sources are being developed and implemented across the residential, commercial, transportation, and industrial sectors to take advantage of their cost, security, and health benefits. Systemic changes present numerous challenges to grid resiliency and energy affordability, creating a need for synergistic solutions that satisfy multiple applications while yielding system-wide cost and emissions benefits. One such solution is an integrated hydrogen energy system (Figure ES-1). This is the focus of H2@Scale—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiative led by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Technologies Office. H2@Scale brings together stakeholders to advance affordable hydrogen production, transport, storage, and utilization in multiple energy sectors. The H2@Scale concept involves hydrogen as an energy intermediate. Hydrogen can be produced from various conventional and renewable energy sources including as a responsive load on the electric grid. Hydrogen has many current applications and many more potential applications, such as energy for transportation—used directly in fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), as a feedstock for synthetic fuels, and to upgrade oil and biomass—feedstock for industry (e.g., for ammonia production, metals refining, and other end uses), heat for industry and buildings, and electricity storage. Owing to its flexibility and fungibility, a hydrogen intermediate could link energy sources that have surplus availability to markets that require energy or chemical feedstocks, benefiting both. This document builds upon a growing body of analyses of hydrogen as an energy intermediate by reporting the results from our initial analysis of the potential impacts of the H2@Scale vision by the mid-21st century for the 48 contiguous U.S. states. Previous estimates have been based on expert elicitation and focused on hydrogen demands. We build upon them, first, by estimating hydrogen’s serviceable consumption potential for possible hydrogen applications and the technical potential for producing hydrogen from various resources. We define the serviceable consumption potential as the quantity of hydrogen that would be consumed to serve the portion of the market that could be captured without considering economics (i.e., if the price of hydrogen were $0/kg over an extended period); thus, it can be considered an upper bound for the size of the market. We define the technical potential as the resource potential constrained by real-world geography and system performance, but not by economics. We then compare the cumulative serviceable consumption potential with the technical potential of a number of possible sources. Second, we estimate economic potential: the quantity of hydrogen at an equilibrium price at which suppliers are willing to sell and consumers are willing to buy the same quantity of hydrogen. We believe this method provides a deeper understanding than was available in the previous analyses. We develop economic potentials for multiple scenarios across various market and technology-advancement assumptions.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages196
StatePublished - 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-77610


  • dispatch-constrained electricity (LDE)
  • economic potential
  • H2@Scale
  • hydrogen
  • low-cost
  • serviceable consumption potential
  • technical potential


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