07/19/2022 | Spotlight
Even before the World Economic Forum committed to make its fortress-style offices in Geneva the model of sustainability it is today, I sat in one of their glassfronted meeting rooms discussing how I would help them to digitial and reduce the vast swathes of printed material they published every year. As we spoke, members of staff were enjoying a yoga session on the highly biodiverse gardens overlooking the fresh waters of Lac Léman. So it came as no surprise to me when the Forum launched its Clean Hydrogen Project Accelerator at the annual Davos meeting a few months ago, adding a pledge to work directly with projects and their developers to “remove specific barriers and expedite the pathway from announcement, through FID and into operation”.
This programme aims to literally speed the process by building ties between project developers, investors and policymakers. It's not a surprise, particularly as the organization is ahead of the game in terms of its own commitment to the likes of renewable energy: 100 per cent of the air heating and cooling the main building is now provided through geothermal energy and heat pumps and its entire domestic hot water supply comes from heat recovered from kitchen appliances.
But the interesting statistics are the much bigger ones that have driven this initiative. Firstly, to reach net-zero by 2050, current hydrogen production needs to be decarbonized and scaled to around six times what it is today.
Latest data from the International Renewable Energy Agency suggests that we need 530Mt of hydrogen to reach a net-zero scenario by that deadline. That is roughly a six-fold increase from today’s hydrogen production. The EU was also ahead of the game here, investing in new generation electrolysers before the rest of the world, making it the global leader in patents on this technology, something noted by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the opening of the last European Hydrogen Week.
“This is the time to invest in Europe's leadership on hydrogen, for our own sake and for the world's sake.”
Ursula von der Leyen
As well as the challenge in terms of the huge efforts needed there, the global energy system is experiencing major disruptions caused by geopolitical tensions, the war in Ukraine and the tightening of oil and gas markets, the impact of which can be seen in hydrogen markets across globally. The momentum for hydrogen as critical in the shift from fossil fuels was highlighted last year at COP26.
Currently, about 40 national hydrogen projects have either been published or are still being developed. More than 500 projects have been announced globally with more than $500 billion in investment behind them and over $130 trillion of private capital was committed by 450 firms from 45 countries to transform the economy to a net-zero future by the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) at the end of last year.
A statement from GFANZ pointed out that this represented a 25 per cent increase under the joint Italian and UK presidency, adding that “firms across the entire financial spectrum have committed to high ambition, sciencebased targets, including achieving net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, delivering their fair share of 50 per cent emission reductions this decade”.
However, according to a multi-author missive from WEF staff, effort is still needed to move from announcement to action and pledges to projects, citing a recent article by the London Financial Times recently reported that Australian investors lack confidence in hydrogen projects, with the $188 billon pipeline of projects yet to be translated into a single molecule of hydrogen being sold.
And the Hydrogen Council’s Daryl to the World Hydrogen Summit in Rotterdam: "We're ready - but stuck.”
The CEO-led body’s Executive Director added: “The pipeline of hydrogen projects globally exceeds 500 projects valued at more than $500bn of investment. In Europe there are 328 projects, yet barely more than five per cent have made a final investment decision. Crossing the investment decision line requires the confidence that policy will support both demand and supply for the investment horizon of several decades.
"The public and private sectors need to come together and establish the conditions to take this critical step urgently."
The need for stakeholder co-operation was a recurring theme during the European Hydrogen Week, as well as the urgency of turning plans into reality. Large number of participants called for decisions on investments to be synchronised and multiple projects linked to create impetus. Jean-Eric Paquet, Director General of DG Research and Innovation summed it up: “The synergies and joint agenda have been well identified politically. Now it needs to happen. You can count on Commission services to support this agenda.”
The WEF initiative, or Roadmap, developed in conjunction with IRENA’s Collaborative Framework on Green Hydrogen were launched with a focus on Europe and Japan, but are being expanded to cover other regions with high export potential such as Latin America, the Middle East, China and India.
Maintaining momentum is important when you think that three years ago an IEA report commissioned by the Japanese government made seven recommendations to help scale up hydrogen projects around the world. Among them were four immediate areas to lay the foundations.
They included making industrial ports the nerve centres for scaling up the use of clean hydrogen something we have covered in more detail elsewhere on this magazine - building on existing infrastructure, such as natural gas pipelines; expanding the use of hydrogen in transport (something we covered extensively in our March issue) and launching the hydrogen trade’s first international shipping routes.
"Hydrogen is today enjoying unprecedented momentum, driven by governments that both import and export energy, as well as the renewables industry, electricity and gas utilities, automakers, oil and gas companies, major technology firms and big cities,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “The world should not miss this unique chance to make hydrogen an important part of our clean and secure energy future... policy makers need to make sure market conditions are well adapted for reaching such ambitious goals. The recent successes of solar PV, wind, batteries and electric vehicles have shown that policy and technology innovation have the power to build global clean energy industries."
China consumes and produces more hydrogen than any other country – its current annual usage is estimated at more than 24 million tonnes. Most of the country’s production is “grey” hydrogen, that generated using fossil fuels like coal, but more than 30 "green" projects – created using emissions-free renewable energy – have been set up since 2019. The country's five-year economic plan recognises hydrogen as one of the six industries of the future. And while it currently has no national strategy in place, hydrogen features in 16 provincial energy strategies. Elsewhere there is no shortage of impetus:
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