Build now, with the best available offerings, writes Dr. David Hart

In some regions, high Covid-19 vaccination rates and the end of the holiday season mean the conference period is upon us. The tone of those conferences reflects an important message. Broadly: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

Hydrogen is unquestionably an important tool in building a low greenhouse gas energy system. Like all tools, it should be used appropriately, not indiscriminately. Still, the complexity of the energy system – and the urgency of the choices we face – means it is not always self-evident where to apply hydrogen and where to hold back. And as more and more people are exposed to hydrogen thinking, some are questioning and challenging the value that hydrogen brings.

This is right and normal. The proponents of hydrogen need to explain clearly where it works and why. The drawbacks need to be openly discussed and addressed. But we cannot hold back until we have resolved every issue before advancing – we need to move ahead with speed if hydrogen is to stand any chance of contributing to greenhouse gas reduction. This is also essential to avoid disillusionment: the driving force behind hydrogen is unprecedented, but governments and investors will not remain supportive if they do not start to see results.

This need for speed is partly reflected in the continuing flow of announcements – the ambitions and aspirations for large-scale roll-out, of renewably-powered electrolysers in particular, are staggering. Adding together global announcements results in a total of more than 100GW of installed capacity by 2030. Achieving that, from the current base of perhaps 2-3GW annual electrolyser manufacturing capacity, will require concerted scale-up of manufacturing, of supply chains, of installation capability, and of course of bankable projects – which have gone through all of their design phases and reached an investment decision. We cannot afford to delay.

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