The global Covid recovery puzzle, and hydrogen’s place within it

This article was first published in H2 View.

By Hydrogen Council Co-secretaries Satoshi Hondo of Toyota and Pierre-Etienne Franc of Air Liquide

2020 will be forever remembered as the year of Covid – a period of challenge and hardship but also of profound mindset change. The global pandemic has impacted nearly everyone on the planet and forced more of us to reflect on what we want our future societies to look like as it becomes increasingly clear that ‘business as usual’ is not an option.

As countries invest trillions into economic recovery, money must be spent on the world we want, not the world we have. And so, 2020 might also go down in history as the long-awaited breakthrough moment for hydrogen.

Faced with difficult questions on how to rebuild, governments around the world are opening their eyes to hydrogen’s potential to enable a shift to a cleaner, more resilient system. They see that if we are to limit global warming to 1.5ºC and prevent the most serious potential impacts of climate change, it will take long-term thinking and massive investments in game-changing, systemic solutions such as hydrogen.

The puzzle is starting to show a picture

Different parts of the world, including Europe and South Korea, are seizing the moment. The European Union’s €180bn investment to scale up and deploy clean hydrogen has ‘completely changed the outlook’ for a sharp reduction in costs that will allow for the scaling up of production and use of renewable hydrogen. Separately, Germany committed €9bn to expand its hydrogen capacity at home and develop partnerships abroad, and South Korea has now put €95bn on the table for clean energy – including for investments in electric and hydrogen vehicles.

“Although the leadership we’ve seen from Europe and South Korea are two pieces of the global puzzle that will enable hydrogen to fulfil its potential, more countries are needed to make up the picture of a global green recovery…”

Industry leaders – including fellow members of the Hydrogen Council, which now consists of 90+ global players – across the automotive, chemicals, oil and gas, and heating sectors are looking to low-carbon hydrogen as a serious alternative to reach increasingly ambitious sustainability objectives. They are calling for urgent action and global collaboration to accelerate clean energy innovation and firmly place the energy transition at the heart of all recovery measures.

Finding the missing pieces

Although the leadership we’ve seen from Europe and South Korea are two pieces of the global puzzle that will enable hydrogen to fulfil its potential, more countries are needed to make up the picture of a global green recovery.

We know that these discussions are happening in key jurisdictions, whether it be Japan’s investment in hydrogen for energy security or California (US) opening its roads to hydrogen fuel cell trucks. We applaud these efforts and encourage all governments to continue to be bold on ambition and cleantech investments, such as hydrogen.

“Over the last three years, the Hydrogen Council has built an unparalleled wealth of expertise, market intelligence, data and best practices…”

We ask these governments to take decisive and concrete actions to support large-scale initiatives that can accelerate the cost competitiveness of hydrogen with a focus on 18 key applications identified in the Hydrogen Council’s Path to Hydrogen Competitiveness’ report published earlier this year. With their backing and contribution, we can take advantage of this unprecedented momentum to safeguard competitiveness, spur innovation and create jobs for the future.

Putting all the pieces together

A challenge with global implications like climate change, requires pioneering small business, large multinational finance, and energy companies collaborating with governments to develop the right regulatory frameworks and innovative support mechanisms that will foster the growth we need to benefit everyone throughout the value chain and the entire economy.

Over the last three years, the Hydrogen Council has built an unparalleled wealth of expertise, market intelligence, data and best practices that we can now share with governments for the benefit of the international community. This platform, led by CEOs, is strong and ready to act. With a focus on building volume, we project a 50% decrease in hydrogen production costs by 2030 – making hydrogen competitive with other low-carbon alternatives and even some conventional options.

We are only one investment cycle away from hydrogen delivering 18% of global energy demand, abating 6 Gt (gigatonnes) of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, and creating 30 million jobs by midcentury.

Bringing large-scale deployment projects to fruition (through public-private partnerships and other innovative investment schemes), developing the market both on the supply and demand side, continuing to bring down costs, standardising safety, and generating economic value and jobs will allow hydrogen in this decade to do what renewables did over the last decade. 2020 has been a puzzling year to say the least, but it is how we emerge that will define it. We can’t afford to miss this chance.

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