Hydrogen is seen as a vital tool to lower emissions across industrial sectors and to provide flexible energy for power, heat, and transport by many national governments,  large corporations and cleantech entrepreneurs, to name a few.
The recognition of hydrogen’s promise and a vision of a hydrogen energy pathway are anything but new – having emerged in the second half of the last century. What is different today is that perhaps at no other time before, was the societal need for viable hydrogen technologies so real and the market so ready for bold innovative solutions. The primary driver of course is the urgent need to reduce emissions and avoid irreversible impacts of climate change.
The International Gas Union (IGU) broadly agrees with this sentiment. Whilst the IGU has heretofore been associated with the exploration, production, transportation, and utilization of natural gas, this is not our only focus.
The IGU believes – as do multiple other authoritative voices, such as IHS Markit – that natural gas will remain a vital pillar of an equitable global energy transition and a major contributor to a decarbonised economy of the future. Natural gas is and will continue to be the catalyst for and foundation of a more sustainable global energy system, energizing a just transition.
The IGU also believes in the critical importance of attaining the goals of Paris Agreement to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future, and as such, we recognise that the natural gas supply itself will need to be progressively decarbonised for that to happen. Hydrogen, along with other low-carbon gas technologies (i.e. biomethane, CCuS) are also imperative.
Many of our members are deeply involved with development and scaling of the decarbonised gasses industry, including hydrogen. This is far from surprising. As Michael Leibrich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance and a strategic advisor to Equinor has commented “…you will have a large-scale inflammable gas being moved around — bought, sold, traded, used, created, managed” – this entire process demands the skills and experience that have been developed across the natural gas value chain – not least because without natural gas infrastructure that permits the transportation and utilisation of gaseous molecules, hydrogen would probably not be seen as a major solution.
The IGU is therefore in alignment with the major international players and their views, (such as the IEA, EU and UN) when we state that hydrogen is a nascent constituent of the sustainable global energy system that will continue to grow in its importance to a level far more significant than is currently the case.
However, to get there, we and the broader energy community must remain objective about the current level of deployment and how it lines up to the projections of development of the hydrogen economy – are we on track? As the UK Government strategy states; “hydrogen can only be considered as a decarbonisation option if it is readily available, at the right price, the right volume and with sufficient confidence it is low carbon.”
It is for these reasons that the IGU sees the development of a global hydrogen economy as a multistage process that is part of the broader trajectory to decarbonization and toward the achievement of a just energy transition. The IGU advocates for energy innovation and clean technology that involves the efficient and sustainable use of all gaseous molecules (natural gas, hydrogen, biomethane) and does not favour any particular production method, as long as it is low in emissions and technologically effective in meeting the needs of the market and ultimately of consumers.
A good example of multistage transition strategy can be seen in the DVGW German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water, which has recently published its “Roadmap Gas 2050, Deliverable D1.1, Assessment of Alternative Processes for the, Production of Green and Blue H2”. The study demonstrates how the hydrogen pathway for Germany could be paved – by taking a systemic approach to energy production and use – and it can provide interesting insights and lessons for other jurisdictions and players considering hydrogen.
A core assumption in this pathway is that Germany could not be self-sufficient in hydrogen production of any colour, especially for green hydrogen. It envisions a global market and views North Africa as a major potential future exporter of green hydrogen, due to its high renewable power generation potential. Looking outside of the DGDW review, there are advanced green hydrogen projects that will contribute to a global market in multiple other locations, including Chileand Australia.
As it comes to sustainability value, one might argue that in an ideal world, green H2 would drive the majority of production because of its lower emissions – but the world we have is not ideal, and the reality is such that every pathway has its trade-offs and supply limits (be they physical, commercial, or societal). The current reality is that there is not sufficient green hydrogen production capacity in the world to meet the projected needs of the several announced hydrogen strategies around the world – the nuances of this limitation can be seen in the chart below.