Exploring paths towards hydrogen

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Exploring paths towards hydrogen

30 Jul 2021 | BusinessNZ

Right now hydrogen is getting a lot of attention.  Many countries are focusing on producing hydrogen for fuel, or procuring it, or planning for its future use.

Hydrogen fuel is highly desirable – clean hydrogen produces none of the harmful emissions of other energy sources.

So hydrogen is potentially a very good energy source for powering our post-carbon world.

But there’s a catch – production of hydrogen is not yet economic. It currently can’t be produced cost-effectively.

Different hydrogen technologies are at different levels of maturity, forming a complex landscape with many possible paths.

As a result, countries are taking the initiative in different ways as they feel their way towards a hydrogen-powered future.

The World Energy Council (WEC) has just released a report on hydrogen - Hydrogen on the Horizon: Ready, Almost Set, Go?

The BusinessNZ Energy Council, WEC’s representative in New Zealand, contributed to the report, along with 128 other countries.

The report highlights the global activity occurring in developing hydrogen as a fuel source.

A number of countries in the Middle East, North Africa and the Americas are focusing on producing hydrogen.  Others in Asia and Europe are more focused on procuring it.

Why hydrogen?

The reasons for looking to hydrogen are varied. It has potential to diversify energy sources, decarbonise economies, enable repurposing of existing infrastructure, and foster green jobs and green economies.

The WEC report also notes that the hydrogen economy could stimulate job creation and economic growth, potentially helping to fulfil post-pandemic ‘build back better’ ambitions.

Some countries – notably Germany, Japan, South Korea and Singapore – are partnering with others to ensure they can achieve global hydrogen supply chains and adequate supply once hydrogen becomes cost-effective to produce in significant quantities.

New Zealand is becoming integrated into such partnerships, signing bilateral partnership agreements with Japan and Singapore and partnering with Germany on green hydrogen research projects.

Hydrogen in NZ

New Zealand is among the countries that are seeking ways to produce hydrogen cost-effectively.

Last week, Contact Energy and Meridian Energy called for expressions of interest to develop a hydrogen production plant in Southland.  Their thinking is that a new hydrogen industry could potentially use the excess electricity from our bountiful, renewable hydro generation to produce a flexible, storable fuel.

If this move to foster cost-effective, large-scale hydrogen production succeeds, it would be a wonderful addition to New Zealand’s energy system.

New Zealand’s unusual energy profile, with our predominance of renewable hydro energy, would seem to be ideal for producing hydrogen in the cleanest way possible.

Other forms of production – for example from nuclear generation – would be more problematic because of perceived safety or environmental issues.

Perceptions around the method of hydrogen production are important, the WEC report says, because a key concern facing energy policymakers is how to trigger demand.

WEC notes that the current hydrogen ‘conversation’ is heavily focused on supply, without paying much heed to the role of hydrogen users.

But it’s important to explore what’s needed to spark consumer demand, including a specific focus on developing hydrogen infrastructure and a global supply chain.

Challenge

This is an unusual situation. We have hydrogen producers trying to find a way to produce hydrogen fuel cost-effectively, while at the same time energy policymakers are trying to prompt demand and develop hydrogen infrastructure set up so it’s in place by the time that economic production becomes a reality!

Achieving a post-carbon energy system will be complex and difficult.

And companies investing in that task face significant risks.

Companies investing hard-earned dollars in innovative, green business ventures are doing us a great service.

For example, local company Hiringa Energy is currently working to establish a nationwide network of hydrogen refuelling stations to be supplied by locally produced hydrogen.

We should watch this work with interest, along with the proposal for a Southland hydrogen production, and other hydrogen business ventures here in New Zealand.

And we should take note of what other countries are doing as they feel their way towards an eventual global hydrogen industry.

The way isn’t clear yet, but the fact that so many countries and companies are working towards the hydrogen goal gives a great deal of hope.

Contact: Tina Schirr, Executive Director, BEC