According to a recent assessment from the International Renewable Energy Agency, the G-7 might consume four to seven times as much hydrogen by the middle of this century as opposed to 2020 in order to “satisfy the needs of a net-zero emissions system.”
It has “become evident that hydrogen must play a vital role in the energy transition if the world is to attain the 1.5 °C target of the Paris Agreement,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera in a foreword to the paper.
Despite this claim, the report by IRENA, which was released on Wednesday during the COP27 climate change summit in Egypt, presents a nuanced overall picture that will necessitate future careful balance.
Among other things, it noted that “despite hydrogen’s great potential, it must be kept in mind that its production, transport and conversion require energy, as well as significant investment.”
“Indiscriminate use of hydrogen could therefore slow down the energy transition,” it added. “This calls for priority setting in policy making.”
The first of these priorities, IRENA said, related to the decarbonization of “existing hydrogen applications.” The second centered around using hydrogen in “hard-to-abate applications” like aviation, steel, shipping and chemicals.
The broad definition of the energy transition is the transition away from fossil fuels and toward a renewable energy-based system. How the shift turns out will depend on a wide range of elements, including technology, financing, and international cooperation.
Green hydrogen is the key to decarbonizing our economies, especially for hard-to-electrify sectors such as steel production, the chemical industry, heavy shipping and aviation.German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
A spokesperson for Hydrogen Europe, an industry association, told CNBC that IRENA was “correct that the deployment of large-scale infrastructure and energy production require large-scale investments, and it is true that it requires energy to produce, store and transport hydrogen.”
The spokesperson said Hydrogen Europe agreed “that any development of hydrogen-related projects should be done responsibly and that certain use applications should be prioritised over others.”
“On how to prioritise, we believe this should be done as much as possible through market instruments that properly value the CO2 emission savings and other aspects (like security of supply), so that consumers can make informed choices,” they added.
A “top-down dogmatic restriction of certain sectors,” such as hydrogen for heating, should be avoided, they said.
Hopes for hydrogen
Described by the International Energy Agency as a “versatile energy carrier,” hydrogen has a diverse range of applications and can be deployed in a wide range of industries.
It can be produced in a number of ways. One technique is electrolysis, which involves dividing water into oxygen and hydrogen using an electric current.
Some refer to this process as “green” or “renewable” hydrogen if the electricity utilized in it is generated by renewable resources like wind or solar. The vast bulk of hydrogen production today is powered by fossil fuels.
In a statement published alongside its report, IRENA said the G-7′s goal of net-zero emissions by the middle of this century would “require a significant deployment of green hydrogen.”
In an effort to decarbonize the way key industries essential to contemporary life run, major economies and corporations have attempted to capitalize on the burgeoning green hydrogen industry in recent years.
During a roundtable discussion at COP27 last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described green hydrogen as “one of the most important technologies for a climate-neutral world.”
“Green hydrogen is the key to decarbonizing our economies, especially for hard-to-electrify sectors such as steel production, the chemical industry, heavy shipping and aviation,” Scholz added, before acknowledging that a significant amount of work was needed for the sector to mature.
“Of course, green hydrogen is still an infant industry, its production is currently too cost-intensive compared to fossil fuels,” he said.
“There’s also a ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma of supply and demand where market actors block each other, waiting for the other to move.”
Also appearing on the panel was Christian Bruch, CEO of Siemens Energy. “Hydrogen will be indispensable for the decarbonization of … industry,” he said.
“The question is, for us now, how do we get there in a world which is still driven, in terms of business, by hydrocarbons,” he added. “So it requires an extra effort to make green hydrogen projects … work.”