While electrification is becoming the new ‘norm’ in India with each passing day, the global community is also exploring new sources for clean energy solutions. The International Energy Association (IEA), the Paris-based autonomous intergovernmental organisation which was established in the framework of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1974 in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis, came out with a report on Friday, which says hydrogen could finally be set on a path to fulfil its longstanding potential as a clean energy solution.
The study to realise hydrogen as a promising energy source identifies immediate opportunities to provide a springboard for the future. In his foreword, Dr. Faith Birol, executive director, International Energy Agency (IEA), said: “I very much hope our report on hydrogen will inform discussions and decisions among G20 countries, as well as those among other governments and companies across the world. I hope it will help to translate hydrogen’s current momentum into real-world action that sets hydrogen firmly on the path to becoming a significant enabler of a clean, secure and affordable energy future.”
The report finds that clean hydrogen is currently enjoying unprecedented political and business momentum, with the number of policies and projects around the world expanding rapidly. Hydrogen can help tackle various critical energy challenges, 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 improve air quality and strengthen energy security.
Given the versatile nature hydrogen can be stored, transported, and be used in many different ways. It can be produced with a wide-array of already available fuels including renewables, nuclear, natural gas, oil and coal. IEA says it’s applications include transforming into electricity and methane to power homes and feed industry, and into fuels for cars, trucks, ships and planes. In addition, 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 and hydrogenbased fuels can transport energy from renewables over long distances – from regions with abundant solar and wind resources, such as Australia or Latin America, to energy-hungry cities thousands of kilometres away.
IEA says that there have been false starts for hydrogen in the past; this time could be different. 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. With a global energy sector in flux, the versatility of hydrogen is attracting stronger interest from a diverse group of governments and companies. 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.
Challenges and opportunities
The energy association acknowledges that while hydrogen offers numerous benefits adopting the same comes with its own set of challenges too. In fact, while naturally hydrogen is available in abundance, producing it from low-carbon energy is costly at present, and the development of supportive infrastructure is also slow that is holding back widespread adoption.
Adding to that in today’s scenario, hydrogen is almost entirely supplied from natural gas and coal, and the global regulations have limited the development of a clean hydrogen industry. To address the same, IEA has identified four near-term opportunities to boost hydrogen on the path towards its clean, widespread use. It says focusing on these real-world springboards could help hydrogen achieve the necessary scale to bring down costs and reduce risks for governments and the private sector.
The opportunities include — make industrial ports the nerve centres for scaling up the use of clean hydrogen; build on existing infrastructure, such as millions of kilometres of natural gas pipelines; expand hydrogen in transport through fleets, freight and corridors and launch the hydrogen trade’s first international shipping routes.
To further the cause and help stakeholders the International Energy Association has given seven key recommendations that it says will help scale up hydrogen. The IEA says a role of hydrogen should be included in long-term strategies by the government at the city, state and national level. Stimulate commercial demand for clean hydrogen will help bring down cost, in addition to addressing investment risks of first-movers/adopters.
By supporting R&D the costs can be further brought down. Removing unnecessary regulatory barriers and hurdles should be expedited and the standards should be harmonised. In terms of global development, countries should engage internationally and track progress that will enhance and speed up development work.
Lastly, focus on four key opportunities to further increase momentum over the next decade. By building on current policies, infrastructure and skills, these mutually supportive opportunities can help to scale up infrastructure development, enhance investor confidence and lower costs: Make the most of existing industrial ports to turn them into hubs for lower-cost, lower-carbon hydrogen. Use existing gas infrastructure to spur new clean hydrogen supplies. Support transport fleets, freight and corridors to make fuel-cell vehicles more competitive. And, establish the first shipping routes to kick-start the international hydrogen trade.