Creating a new hydrogen economy is a massive undertaking

Interview with Barbara Jinks, Programme Officer – Green Gas delivery and Use, Innovation and Technology Centre, IRENA

At the 24th Council meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), hydrogen took centre stage as members discussed priority areas for the organisation’s ongoing work on green hydrogen. Held on 27th October, the event titled “Accelerating Hydrogen–Opportunities for International Cooperation” delivered a high degree of engagement among IRENA’s membership on the key issues of accelerating the production, delivery and use of green hydrogen. In an interview, Barbara Jinks provides an overview of IRENA’s global initiatives since 2018 to promote the hydrogen trade.

Our work on hydrogen started in 2018 when we analysed the potential of green hydrogen in the energy transition. That kicked off a series of studies that, has deepened and broadened over time, and is across the entire supply chain. Through our analyses and collaboration with Members, partners and industry, we have built knowledge on the trade, market design, infrastructure, regulation, certification, innovation, and financing green hydrogen. We also look at cross-cutting issues of hydrogen certification, supply chain, repurposing the gas grid, critical materials and policy measures. Earlier this year, we launched the “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor” providing a comprehensive analysis of the geopolitical drivers and outlook of the development of clean hydrogen value chains.

With the announcement of the G7 Hydrogen Action Pact (HAP) in May 2022, and upon request of the German G7 presidency, IRENA developed a detailed set of recommendations to accelerate the deployment of low carbon and green hydrogen, including actions for international harmonisation of sustainability criteria for green hydrogen, standards and certification, balanced supply and demand, and the promotion of hydrogen for industrial use. IRENA made the recommendations after reviewing existing G7 country policies and national hydrogen strategies, as well as conducting a gap analysis of enabling measures. It is important to note that the G7 groups of countries has a unique opportunity to be the leaders in the development of policies and enabling measure frameworks to facilitate a new hydrogen economy.

IRENA geopolitical survey indicates that three quarters of global green hydrogen will be produced and used locally, and that one quarter will need to be traded between countries. This offers a large demand for global trade of hydrogen, targeted at reducing emissions in the hard-to-decarbonise-sectors, and reduce 10 percent of CO2 emissions. Research is being conducted into how to best ship hydrogen. The consensus is that liquid ammonia is the most suitable medium for hydrogen transportation. Most government-owned natural gas pipelines designed and manufactured to international standards can be repurposed for transporting hydrogen, reducing the risk of stranded assets–Assets suffering from write-downs, devaluations or a conversion to liabilities. Germany, for instance, estimates that 19 percent of its transmission and distribution lines can be used for hydrogen. Under the European Hydrogen Backbone initiative, 69 percent of the existing natural gas grids could be repurposed.

What are the key barriers in the development of international green hydrogen projects and trade?

At present, there is hardly any green hydrogen being traded across borders. Creating a whole new hydrogen economy is a massive undertaking and requires an open mindset that accepts the need for change. We have to move away from established energy systems based on fossil fuels, if not, they risk impeding the hydrogen industry’s development. Production of green hydrogen is not new, but to build the infrastructure for large scale hydrogen use, the planning must begin now. The cost, however, is not seen as a barrier anymore; with the increasing rise of gas prices, green hydrogen is becoming increasingly competitive.


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