China’s Hydrogen Strategy: National vs. Regional Plans [GGP]
While the US and European medias have dedicated significant bandwidth to the topic of low-carbon hydrogen in the United States and Europe, they have reported far less on unfolding developments around that topic in China. This disparity is especially notable because China stands as the foremost global player in hydrogen production and consumption. The country’s substantial market size and extensive industrial infrastructure not only facilitate fast technological advancements in the hydrogen space, but also offer the potential to achieve economies of scale—two developments that can significantly influence the global hydrogen market landscape. In light of these circumstances, it is essential to understand China’s hydrogen strategy, including how the country plans to start decarbonizing its current hydrogen consumption and expand future use and production.
A notable feature of China’s hydrogen strategy is that it is not, in fact, singular, but instead comprised of a national strategy and a multitude of regional strategies. Since the release of China’s Medium and Long-Term Strategy for the Development of the Hydrogen Energy Industry (2021–2035)(referred to as “the National Plan”) in March 2022, there has been significant development in the country’s hydrogen space. However, the National Plan’stargets for renewable hydrogen production may appear conservative given the scale of hydrogen consumption in the country: a range of 100,000 to 200,000 tons per year by 2025 represents only 0.3 to 0.6 percent of the 33 million tons (Mt) of fossil-based hydrogen consumed in China in 2020. (For context, in 2022, electrolytic hydrogen’s production level was still below 100,000 tons globally, and as of early 2023 about 4.5 Mt of renewable hydrogen globally by 2025 has been committed to, planned, and announced. Some regions appear more bullish, including the EU with its aspirational renewable hydrogen target of up to 1 Mt by 2024.) By contrast, provinces, cities, and municipalities across China have introduced their own hydrogen development plans that establish far more ambitious renewable hydrogen goals. Hence, the provincial plans viewed together may offer a more accurate picture of China’s hydrogen industry over the coming decades than the National Plan.
The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (NGC) NGC’s HSSE strategy is reflective and supportive of the organisational vision to become a leader in the global energy business.
This commentary analyzes these somewhat divergent national and local hydrogen strategies comparatively to provide a nuanced understanding of China’s evolving hydrogen landscape. Its key findings are as follows:
- The targets of China’s provinces combined are far more ambitious than its national targets, with Inner Mongolia leading the way. The latter province is aiming to reach 480,000 tons of renewable hydrogen production per year by 2025 (2.5 to 5 times the national target). China may have set a conservative national renewable hydrogen target to test the waters, allowing local governments to charge ahead.
- Inner Mongolia could reach around 60 percent of its 2025 target based on projects that are currently under construction (and excluding those still in the planning stage, which may or may not materialize). This region alone would largely meet the national target for renewable hydrogen. While the provinces’ targets may not be fully met, they provide a more realistic view of what China can accomplish.
- Though climate mitigation is certainly one key underlying driver of China’s hydrogen strategy, industrial and economic motivations seem more prominent in the short term. China has placed less emphasis on carbon intensity than the EU and the US, as evidenced by the Chinese government’s lack of a formal definition of renewable hydrogen.
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