From the editor: The Hydrogen Manifesto [GasTransitions]
It would probably be more correct to say that the Hydrogen Manifesto has been published – but the Revolution has still to be carried out.
That Manifesto is the EU’s Hydrogen Strategy – presented by the European Commission on July 8. It calls on the entire European society to be united and build a New Net-Zero Carbon Emissions World on a foundation of Renewable Hydrogen.
There is no question that this is a serious plan which has many adherents, not least in the energy industry itself. As Alberto Litta Modignani, Executive Vice-President at the Hydrogen Business Unit of French energy giant ENGIE, says in an interview in this issue of Gas Transitions: “At ENGIE we believe hydrogen is the next big thing in energy.”
Alberto says that “it was decided at the highest level of the company to make hydrogen one of the pillars of our energy transition’s strategy.”
Oliver Bishop, head of Shell Hydrogen, spoke in similar terms when we interviewed him for Gas Transitions. “I don’t see any energy transition without hydrogen,” he said. “It is a major contributor to the decarbonisation agenda.” As reported in our News section, Shell has just won another offshore wind tender in the North Sea and is planning to build huge offshore wind capacity dedicated to green hydrogen production.
And yet, there is no guarantee that Europe will become a Hydrogen Economy, as the European Commission is envisioning. “We are close to the trigger point,” is how Alberto of ENGIE puts it. “Hydrogen is around the corner.”
What will it take to turn the corner? In this issue of Gas Transitions, you will find three highly informative critical analyses of the EU’s Hydrogen Strategy. They all have a similar message: the EU is off to a good start, yes, but it’s only a start.
Legal experts Ana Stanič and Alex Barnes note that the existing legislative framework in the EU does not allow the creation of the new value chain of hydrogen that is required. The objective of current legislation was to liberate existing markets, they point out, but for green hydrogen a brand-new market has to be created, which requires a very different approach.
Energy analyst Andrei Belyi writes that the Hydrogen Strategy will require a far higher share of renewables in Europe, among other challenges. He also asks what the EU intends to do with LNG, which until very recently was a “policy priority” for Brussels. Is that no longer the case?
Mike Parr, Brussels-based independent energy consultant, identifies six omissions in the EU’s Hydrogen Strategy. One of them indeed is the tremendous growth of renewable energy needed, while wholesale prices are low or even negative. No EU strategy exists to tackle this problem, notes Parr.
Parr also makes the interesting point that the focus of the strategy is on large-scale systems – which the Shells and Engies of this world can take care of. But if hydrogen is really to conquer the market, it will need to be integrated at distribution level with renewable energy. “Hydrogen must be embedded in the socio-economic structure at all levels” and cannot be left to “a small coterie of the big players,” argues Parr.
Regardless of any “strategy” the EU will pursue, it is virtually certain that Europe can never produce enough renewable energy to meet all its green hydrogen needs. Chile is one country that is ready to export hydrogen to Europe – theoretically ready, that is. Chilean energy expert Johan Dreyer explains what is happening in hydrogen in Chile: plenty of ambition, but here too the first real moves have yet to be made.
In case you are still wondering “why hydrogen”, another independent energy analyst, Jim Baird, argues that hydrogen grids are in many ways superior to electricity grids – and hydrogen cars to electric cars. Baird also has an interesting suggestion: he says electrolysis should be done in deep water, where the pressure is much higher.
But maybe you think hydrogen will blow over and the old regime will be able to stay in power? You may be right at that. Do note, though, that, as you can read in our News section, Saudi electricity company ACWA Power and U.S.-based chemical company Air Products have signed an agreement to build a $5bn green hydrogen facility in NEOM, the future “city for sustainable living” the Saudis are planning to build in the northwest part of their country. That’s pretty serious money.
And has history has shown, it only takes a small vanguard sometimes to make a revolution.
Karel Beckman, editor-in-chief Gas Transitions