Executive Summary

New Zealand is attempting to focus its energy production on clean, environmentally friendly electricity. The government has expressed a goal of having 90% renewably produced electricity while meeting other environmental standards. With the push towards clean energy, advances in renewably produced fuels are needed to complement the overarching goal to go green. In the typical New Zealand home, 70% of energy demand comes from heating and cooking, much of which is not satisfied by electricity. Fuels such as LPG, diesel, oil, and wood are used to fill the heating requirements of homes. In New Zealand, LPG is a common fuel for home cooking and heating, particularly amongst current renewable energy system (RES) owners. While LPG may have a smaller carbon footprint than other petroleum products, there are cleaner options available that are also renewable.

Hydrogen is a cleanly burning fuel that can be produced renewably from water. Hydrogen gas can be used in similar ways as LPG. The fuel can be used for cooking, water heating, and space heating. The only byproduct of hydrogen fuel is water, so when it is produced renewably, it is significantly better for the environment than fossil fuels. HyLink™, which is the focus of this study, is a system that converts water into hydrogen gas and stores it underground at a low pressure. The gas is then used as necessary in the home. The system is intended for off- grid homes that currently have renewable energy systems, such as solar panels or wind turbines.

Homes with an RES generally produce electricity intermittently. Solar panels work best when the sun is bright, while wind turbines work best in strong winds. Sometimes the electricity production does not meet the demand, while other times it exceeds the required production. HyLink™ is particularly useful in the off-grid application when there is excess electricity being produced. Instead of underutilizing the remaining resources from the day, the excess electricity can be used to convert water into hydrogen gas to be used at a later time.

A prototype HyLink™ system is located on Matiu/Somes Island in the Wellington Harbor. The current strategy of communicating the functionality and benefits of the system is limited to a display board at the site, which contains an infographic of the process as well as a description of hydrogen energy and the HyLink™ system. Matiu/Somes Island is a good fit for HyLink™ because it utilizes and off-grid RES that requires energy storage. However, the island remains accessible to the Wellington area and attracts about twenty thousand visitors a year, many of whom are not aware of the system.

The goal of the project is to understand how to better inform the public about the function and benefits of the HyLink™ system and develop a means of communicating information about the technology to interested individuals. We established three objectives to reach this goal: (1) Determine the public perception of renewable energy and hydrogen as a fuel, (2) Understand the typical energy usage of off-grid users and their perception and motivations for hydrogen energy, and (3) Establish guidelines for an effective communication strategy for HyLink™, and implement these into a website to deliver information about hydrogen energy.

For Objective 1, we administered 71 surveys of the general public in Wellington. A convenience sample was used to understand the public perception of both renewable energy and hydrogen fuel.

For Objective 2, we interviewed and surveyed 10 current off-grid homeowners with open-ended questions. The idea of these conversations was to understand their motivations for going off-grid and to learn more about their energy usage needs. In particular, we were interested in whether they use LPG and if so, how much. We also assessed their perception of hydrogen energy to get an idea of how RES owners feel about utilizing a technology such as HyLink™.

For Objective 3, we used information from the public surveys and off-grid surveys/interviews to develop a communication strategy. This strategy was demonstrated in the form of a website. Additionally, we developed tools to provide an easy way to determine if HyLink™ can be a viable supplement to their system. This material was analyzed with the information from an interview with Robert Holt of Callaghan Innovation, who provided insight on what they want to communicate about HyLink™.

From our first two objectives, we have developed the following findings:

  • New Zealanders believe that the development and utilization of renewable energy technology is important.

  • New Zealanders accurately recognize that thermal energy (for cooking and heating) constitutes the largest percentage of their energy usage (about 70%).

  •  Most current RES owners use LPG in their homes, with the primary usage coming from cooking.

  • People have no strong opposition nor favor towards using hydrogen as a fuel and know very little about it.

  • When properly confirmed by experts, respondents do not stress safety as a concern about a hydrogen-based system.

  • People have many questions about hydrogen energy centered on what hydrogen fuel is and how hydrogen fuel works.

  • The primary reasons for adopting renewable energy systems include economics, environmental friendliness, and independence from the grid.

  • Maintenance and reliability issues are current shortcomings of renewable energy systems.

These findings served to inform our third objective: to propose a communication strategy consisting of a series of communication recommendations for educating people on the HyLink™ system as effectively as possible. The first of these recommendations was to limit the discussion of the importance of renewable energy when educating people about HyLink™. As discussed in Finding 1, people understand the importance of renewable energy therefore arguing this point is not a necessary step in educating people about HyLink™. Instead, associating HyLink™ with renewable energy as a means of providing a familiar context for the system will be beneficial to communication efforts.

The next recommendation for communicating the advantages of HyLink™ was to prioritize a discussion about how hydrogen can be used as a fuel. Finding 4 shows that people admittedly know very little about hydrogen fuel and as a result do not hold an opinion about how suitable hydrogen is for use in a home; by providing them with information about hydrogen, we can fill this gap in knowledge and allow people to understand how they could use HyLink™.

We also suggest a significant emphasis on the ability of HyLink™ to displace LPG usage. Finding 3 explains that a majority of RES owners use LPG for cooking or heating in their home; for this reason we suggest a focus is put on the ability to displace LPG consumption with HyLink™. Finally, we advise conducting an appropriate hydrogen safety discussion. Finding 5 suggests that there is not evidence of significant preexisting oppositions to hydrogen fuel; however, hydrogen, like all fuels has some risks and dangers associated with using it. For this reason, we suggest communicating the safety procedures and regulations it fulfills, but there is not evidence of a substantial resistance to hydrogen fuel that needs to be overcome.

With these guidelines in mind, we developed a way of framing HyLink™ following Sinek’s Golden Circle communication concept, which proposes that the discussion about a product starts with explaining ‘why’ there is a need for it, followed by ‘how’ it is done, and concluding with ‘what’ the system is. This framing is summarized below:

“When excess energy goes unused, we can be doing more by building an eco-friendly, sustainable method of independence from fossil fuels through clean, renewably produced hydrogen gas with a technology called HyLink™.”

We implemented this framing into a website and validated its effectiveness through two discussions with focus groups. The participants responded favorably to this communication strategy. Consequently, we believe that we have validated our communication recommendations as demonstrated on the website.

Based on our conversations with RES owners, we developed a list of renewable energy system and HyLink™ interest factors. We gathered the major themes that were presented in the conversations from RES owners and developed a list of criteria that would make HyLink™ appealing. Finding 7 shows that HyLink™ should be cost competitive and provide an increase in environmental benefits over the system it would replace. It also suggests it should contribute to the users’ independence from external energy dependencies. Finding 8 suggests that the system’s ease of maintenance and reliability would be a substantial factor in someone’s decision to install the system, leading us to conclude that if HyLink™ were easier to maintain than other systems, it would be desirable. Ultimately, if HyLink™ is able to become an affordable alternative fuel system, with minimal detractions from a user’s independence, while maintaining a strong environmentally friendly image, HyLink™ will certainly have installation interest from potential users and investors.

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