This article originally appeared in H2 View, September 2019 print edition
Climate change is the defining challenge of this generation, according to the United Nations, and one of the most complex issues we face today, if you ask NASA. Inextricably linked to traditional energy production and consumption patterns, it goes without saying that the energy sector is at the heart of the climate debate. The energy sector is the vital source that powers our modern lives and lifts nations into prosperity, yet it is also the largest source of global greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. So, with the impact of business-as-usual having a global scope and unprecedented risks, it is clear that now is the time for a collective rethink of how we can implement the long-term structural change, and unlock the large-scale investment needed to empower the global energy transition.
In the transition to a sustainable energy future, there is now international consensus that hydrogen will play a key role. Hydrogen has entered mainstream discussions in major fora globally. This year’s G20 Summit in Japan had a strong focus on hydrogen. It was here that a new International Energy Agency report, The Future of Hydrogen, was launched, concluding that the time is right to tap into hydrogen’s potential. In addition, recent analyses by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and The Rocky Mountain Institute predict that the cost of producing hydrogen gas with renewables is likely to drop dramatically in the coming decades, contributing to the growth of the hydrogen market and making the technology even more accessible. Hydrogen has enormous potential to be one of the game changers we need in the energy sector – the technology to harness cleaner power through this abundant element is here.
Hydrogen will need to complement other solutions in the energy mix, including renewables, other clean fuels and electrification – but it is incredibly versatile, able to be used as a fuel for power or in industry, and able to help us decarbonise major sectors such as transport, steel, aviation and building heat. To put this into context, by 2050, hydrogen could meet 18% of the world’s final energy demands, preventing 6 Gt of CO2 emissions compared to today’s technologies. Most importantly, hydrogen generates zero emissions at the point of use, allowing for long-term energy storage, and able to be produced from renewable electricity or with low emissions profiles from hydrocarbons when coupled with carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Industry has been developing innovative hydrogen solutions for decades and is now poised to deliver: solutions are ready to deploy at scale. Where in the past only a limited number of pioneering states and industry players have stood somewhat alone, governments all over the world are now recognising hydrogen as critical to reaching their energy and climate targets and are rolling out long-term hydrogen strategies to accelerate its deployment. From Germany to Australia to Korea, in 2019 there are more than 50 strategies and targets now set in place to support hydrogen development.
Global cooperation is already producing large-scale hydrogen projects, and inspiring further action and collaboration; yet to realise the hydrogen economy which will lay the foundations for a new energy system, we need smart investments and innovative financing to scale up and mass deploy hydrogen technologies. Not only is there a compelling environmental case for action, but the economic case is also robust. The recent Hydrogen Council study – Hydrogen Scaling Up shows that a $2.5 trillion market is waiting to be unlocked by 2050 once hydrogen is deployed at scale.
No one country or company alone has the financing, technology or policies to start a global energy revolution; but there is a clear, urgent need to unlock the large-scale investment required to empower the global energy transition now. We simply need to have the vision and foresight to seize the opportunities for a clean, secure and affordable energy future.
-Pierre-Etienne Franc, Vice President of Hydrogen Energy at Air Liquide Group and Hydrogen Council Co-Secretary