Progressive Views: Possible Clean Energy Solutions

By Kevin Henning
For the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, May 5, 2024

Tourists watching a geyser.
Image by Magic K is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Lots in the news lately about hydrogen, geothermal, and fourth-generation nuclear power plants.  These three energy options can help us get to net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Here’s my take on them.

Hydrogen is a great source of energy once you have it. As often mentioned, it is the most abundant element in the universe. Unfortunately, it loves to be combined with other atoms and is hard to separate. Hydrogen does have spectacular properties as a clean fuel. In a fuel cell it combines with oxygen to cleanly produce water and electricity. It can be burned in an engine or be rocket fuel. Hydrogen can be produced cleanly by electrolysis or by a dirty hydrocarbon cracking process that produces carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, electrolysis takes more energy than it produces. Hydrogen also requires special steel and handling to avoid something called hydrogen embrittlement which causes the steel to lose ductility and strength. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology found the total cost of ownership for a hydrogen powered vehicle was around 40% higher than a comparable gasoline vehicle, and about 10% more than an electric vehicle. While advancing technologies may overcome these obstacles, there is a long way to go. Simply put, if you start with electricity from a solar panel, it is more cost effective to transport, store, and use electricity directly compared to making hydrogen, transporting it in special pipelines and converting it to electricity with a fuel cell. Since we already have a mature electricity transport and delivery system, hydrogen infrastructure has a long expensive catchup. I do see scope for using hydrogen as a storage method at solar and windmill sites rather than batteries. It also can be used in special applications where cost is not such an issue. Think spaceships and fuel cells. Our sun is a great hydrogen fusion reactor where hydrogen fuses into helium generating amazing amounts of heat and radiation which travels to the earth and can be converted into energy by solar panels or give you a sunburn.

One area of innovation with tremendous potential that would complement Texas’ oil and gas industry is geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is often overlooked as a component for addressing climate change but is finally being implemented by new start-up companies, many in Texas. In simple terms, it is heat energy from the earth and could be a significant component of our national and local energy mix. It is sustainable, environmentally friendly and renewable, and largely underused.  Geothermal projects can provide heating, cooling, and electricity. It is always on, unlike wind and solar, and uses much of the same technology used in existing oil and gas development. It can be tapped both by large projects or small home-based heat exchangers. Another good fit for Texas is the fact that one of the nation’s foremost centers for the study and promotion of geothermal energy is at Southern Methodist University.

Nuclear fission occurs when heavy uranium atoms split, giving off lots of energy. Fission power generation is seeing a comeback. New design plants have potential to replace fossil fuel plants with zero carbon technology and can be retrofitted to existing fossil fuel power plants. Even Governor Abbott likes it which is a rare point of agreement between the two of us. The new designs are much safer, smaller, and generate less nuclear waste. Also, having an advanced nuclear energy industry in America is essential for our energy security and provides an opportunity to export this technology to allies around the world. This huge worldwide market can be shaped by our own scientists and engineers rather than Russia who is currently the largest supplier of nuclear technology. Nuclear fission power generation needs to grow and should be a significant part of our future energy mix. Nuclear power currently generates about 18% of electricity in the United States so there definitely is room for growth.

To learn more about energy and climate science, go to the Energy Information Administration website. To find out more about how to get involved with the Kendall County Democratic Party, visit or call us at 830-331-1243.

Kevin Henning is a local Democrat.

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