The International Energy Agency has called on governments to do more to promote its development. Investments of $1,200 billion are needed by 2030. However, the number of countries with a national strategy for this energy vector is increasing.
Governments must step up their efforts to promote the use of hydrogen if they are to achieve zero net emissions by 2050. The Global Hydrogen Review 2021, recently published by the International Energy Agency (IEA), is a call to arms.
According to the Paris-based intergovernmental organisation, hydrogen is the third pillar in the strategy to cut CO2 emissions, alongside wind power and photovoltaics. In 2050 it must meet 10% of global energy needs, and to reach this goal it will require 1,200 billion dollars of investment by the end of this decade, while to date only a quarter of these resources have been deployed: 37 billion have come from the public sector and another 300 billion from the private sector. This capital will be used not only to increase supply but also demand. As with electric cars, the IEA is convinced that ad hoc plans must be put in place to stimulate demand from buyers.
However, the organisation led by Fatih Birol also has some good news: 17 governments now have a national strategy for the development of hydrogen and another 20 have announced their intention to do so; in 2019 there were only three, France, Japan and South Korea.
According to the report, global hydrogen demand stood at 90 million tonnes in 2020 and was used almost exclusively in industry and the refining sector. It was also produced almost exclusively from fossil fuels with CO2 emissions of 900 million tonnes. But there are encouraging signs of progress on this front too. The global capacity of electrolysers, needed to produce hydrogen from water, has doubled in the last five years to reach just over 300 MW by mid-2021. Some 350 projects, which would increase global capacity to 54 GW by 2030, are currently under development. Another 40 projects with over 35 GW of capacity are in the early stages of development. If all these plants are built, global production of hydrogen from electrolysers could reach 8 million tonnes by 2030. This is about one-tenth of the amount that would allow net zero emissions by 2050. Europe is the world leader in electrolyser capacity with a 40% share, and is set to remain so in the short term thanks to ambitious plans by the European Union and the UK.
However, these plans could receive a further boost from the introduction of guarantees of origin, as is the case for energy from renewable sources. Today the market is dominated by grey hydrogen, which in terms of environmental protection and production costs is nothing like green hydrogen. Europe needs to speed up, not least to avoid being overtaken by Australia, which has deployed a very aggressive strategy. And Latin America and the Middle East may also soon see their installed capacity grow. China has had a slow start, but the number of projects is growing rapidly, while the US Department of Energy recently announced the Hydrogen Energy Earthshot plan to accelerate the development of this energy vector.
“Hydrogen is a key pillar in the decarbonisation of industry, although most of the technologies that can make a significant contribution are still under development”, conclude the International Energy Agency experts. “Important steps are being taken: demonstration projects are being developed to use hydrogen in industrial applications such as cement, ceramics or glass production”.