The International Energy Agency says the world has an important opportunity to tap into green hydrogen produced using electricity from renewables such as wind and solar PV
The International Energy Agency says the world has an important opportunity to tap into green hydrogen produced using electricity from renewables such as wind and solar PV.
A report published today (14 June 2019) analyses hydrogen’s potential and offers guidance on its future development. The report is being launched by Dr Fatih Birol, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) executive director and Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Hiroshige Seko at the meeting of G20 energy and environment ministers in Karuizawa, Japan.
The report – The Future of Hydrogen: Seizing Today’s Opportunities – finds that clean hydrogen is currently receiving strong support from governments and businesses around the world, with the number of policies and projects expanding rapidly.
“Hydrogen can help to tackle various critical energy challenges including helping to store the variable output from renewables like solar PV and wind to better match demand,” said the IEA. “It offers ways to decarbonise a range of sectors – including long-haul transport, chemicals, and iron and steel – where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce emissions. It can also help to improve air quality and strengthen energy security.
“Hydrogen can enable renewables to provide an even greater contribution,” said the IEA. “It has the potential to help with variable output from renewables, such as wind, whose availability is not always well matched with demand. Hydrogen is one of the leading options for storing energy from renewables and looks promising to be a lowest-cost option for storing electricity over days, weeks or even months.”
“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,” Dr Birol said. “The world should not miss this unique chance to make hydrogen an important part of our clean and secure energy future.”
To build on this momentum, the IEA report offers seven key recommendations to help governments, companies and other stakeholders to scale up hydrogen projects around the world. These include four areas where actions today can help to lay the foundations for the growth of a global clean hydrogen industry in the years ahead: making industrial ports the nerve centres for scaling up the use of clean hydrogen; building on existing infrastructure, such as natural gas pipelines; expanding the use of hydrogen in transport by using it to power cars, trucks and buses that run on key routes; and launching the hydrogen trade’s first international shipping routes.
Despite the optimism, the report notes that hydrogen still faces significant challenges. Producing hydrogen from low-carbon energy is costly at the moment, the development of hydrogen infrastructure is slow and holding back widespread adoption, and some regulations currently limit the development of a clean hydrogen industry.
“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”
Today, hydrogen is already being used on an industrial scale, but it is almost entirely supplied from natural gas and coal. Its production, mainly for the chemicals and refining industries, is responsible for 830M tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. That is the equivalent of the annual carbon emissions of the UK and Indonesia combined.
“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,” Reducing emissions from existing hydrogen production is a challenge but also represents an opportunity to increase the scale of clean hydrogen worldwide. One approach is to capture and store or utilise the CO2 from hydrogen production from fossil fuels. There are currently several industrial facilities around the world that use this process, and more are in the pipeline, but a much greater number is required to make a significant impact.
Another approach is for industries to secure greater supplies of hydrogen from clean electricity. In the past two decades, more than 200 projects have started operation to convert electricity and water into hydrogen to reduce emissions – from transport, natural gas use and industrial sectors – or to support the integration of renewables into the energy system.
Expanding the use of clean hydrogen in other sectors – such as cars, trucks, steel and heating buildings – is another important challenge. There are currently around 11,200 hydrogen-powered cars on the road worldwide. Existing government targets call for that number to increase dramatically to 2.5M by 2030.
“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,” said the IEA.
The report concluded that now is the time to scale up technologies and bring down costs to allow hydrogen to become widely used. What the IEA described as “pragmatic and actionable recommendations to governments and industry” in the report will make it possible to take full advantage of this increasing momentum.
“There have been false starts for hydrogen in the past;this time could be different,” said the IEA, noting that 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.
“With a global energy sector in flux, the versatility of hydrogen is attracting stronger interest from a diverse group of governments and companies,” said the energy agency. “Support is coming from governments that both import and export energy as well as renewable electricity suppliers, industrial gas producers, electricity and gas utilities, automakers, oil and gas companies, major engineering firms, and cities. Investments in hydrogen can help foster new technological and industrial development in economies around the world, creating skilled jobs.”
Producing hydrogen from low-carbon energy is costly at the moment. IEA analysis finds that the cost of producing hydrogen from renewable electricity could fall 30% by 2030 as a result of declining costs of renewables and the scaling up of hydrogen production. Fuel cells, refuelling equipment and electrolysers (which produce hydrogen from electricity and water) can all benefit from mass manufacturing.
Among seven recommendations the IEA made was R&D be supported to bring down costs. “Alongside cost reductions from economies of scale, R&D is crucial to lower costs and improve performance, including for fuel cells, hydrogen-based fuels and electrolysers (the technology that produces hydrogen from water).”