How We Respond to COVID-19 Will Define Our Future Energy System

This article was first published in H2 View.

By Pierre-Etienne Franc (Air Liquide) and Saehoon Kim (Hyundai), Co-Secretaries of the Hydrogen Council

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a global crisis. While the full scale of its consequences is hard to predict, it is already clear that recovery efforts will entail massive government action. It is also becoming clear that “the largest economic shock of our lifetime”[1], will be a defining moment for the energy transition and hydrogen as one of its key components. Whether governments maintain an ambitious stance on climate action as part of their efforts to build a more resilient post-COVID19 world or dilute (or even abandon) their pre-crisis plans in favour of other priorities, will decide the fate of our energy system for at least a generation.

The good news is that the industry – with the Hydrogen Council as its global voice – stands ready to pull together to demonstrate a powerful vision and decisive action for a better energy future powered by hydrogen. With a newly elected Board composed of Air Liquide, Anglo American, China Energy, Cummins, ENGIE, Faurecia, Hyundai Motor Group, Johnson Matthey, Royal Dutch Shell, Sinopec, Linde, Total and Toyota – represented at the highest level by their global CEOs – the Hydrogen Council is committed to providing the bold leadership needed to navigate through the COVID-19 crisis and deliver its part of the solution.

This group remains one hundred percent committed to our shared vision that the clean energy transformation won’t be possible without hydrogen and we are encouraged to see this view being time and time again backed by some of the world’s most renowned experts. For example, the latest outlook from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) released at the end of March 2020 demonstrates that use of clean hydrogen can help address the toughest third of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Scaling up hydrogen solutions would also provide a significant economic contribution, including $2.5 trillion in annual sales of hydrogen and equipment and 30 million new jobs created[2] to help support post-crisis recovery. 

Earlier this year, we pronounced this the decade of hydrogen, based on unprecedented acknowledgement of hydrogen’s potential to provide clean energy and a better society – not only in the industry and by partners, but by governments, international organisations, and investors as well. Through the Hydrogen Council’s latest report, Path to Hydrogen Competitiveness: A Cost Perspective, we illustrated that the market dynamics are there: the cost of hydrogen solutions will fall sharply and sooner than previously expected, making hydrogen competitive with other low-carbon alternatives and, in some cases, even conventional options. Now is not the time to slow down: we must accelerate the momentum, despite all the setbacks that this crisis brings – or, in fact, because of it – to emerge stronger than before.

Hydrogen technologies are ready to be deployed at scale; however, we need decisive decarbonisation policies that enable us to continue to secure the necessary investment of about $70 billion to achieve hydrogen cost competitiveness[3]. With governments currently unlocking trillions in recovery funds, we need to make sure that clean energy solutions such as hydrogen firmly remain on their priority lists. If we ramp up industry collaboration with governments now, as they are setting new priorities, there is a real opportunity to capture a positive wave of change to provide a better legacy to pass down to the next generation – our children and grandchildren.

There is no doubt that this global humanitarian and economic crisis is a deeply challenging time for us all, but as we emerge there will be a period of renewal – an historic opportunity to bring our current energy systems into a new reality. We need everyone – businesses, governments, investors and the public – to join forces and help build a more sustainable, secure and resilient energy system, with hydrogen at its core. We are here to do our part.

[1] Goldman on how the largest economic shock of our lifetimes will permanently alter energy markets, CNBC, March 2020

[2] Scaling Up Report, Hydrogen Council, November 2017

[3] Path to Hydrogen Competitiveness: A Cost Perspective, Hydrogen Council, January 2020

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