Australia should learn from global hydrogen focus, says new report

Australia should learn from global hydrogen focus, says new report

Hydrogen has experienced a number of ‘false downs’ in the 1970s, 1990s and early 2000s which subsequently faded. This time, however, there is reason to think hydrogen will play a substantial role in the global energy system.

The most important factor driving this renewed focus is the ability of hydrogen to support deep carbon abatement by assisting those sectors where abatement with non-carbon electricity has so far proven difficult.

Hydrogen can also address poor urban air quality, energy security, and provides a good means of shifting energy supply between regions and between seasons.

In response to these changed conditions, many countries, states and even cities have developed hydrogen strategies while various interest groups have developed industry roadmaps which fulfil a similar role.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is in the process of developing a National Hydrogen Strategy, expected to be formally approved in December (2019).

It is anticipated this strategy will highlight the opportunities that hydrogen represents for Australia in the development of a hydrogen export industry coupled with the role of hydrogen in mobility, in domestic gas networks, in providing heat to industry and in supporting electricity generation.

“There is now genuine excitement around the world that hydrogen will play a substantial role in the global energy system with more widespread adoption of hydrogen as a means to access energy.”

In order to help develop Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy, a new report summarising 19 hydrogen strategies and industry roadmaps from around the globe, including North America, UK, Europe and Asia, has been written by the University of Adelaide.

According to the report’s authors, Australia has much to learn from these countries, who are now making rapid advances in hydrogen energy technologies and strategy.

It is hoped Advancing Hydrogen, commissioned and released by the Future Fuels Cooperative Research Centre (FFCRC), will help Australia consider the opportunities for hydrogen and identify ways to collaborate with other countries.

“Hydrogen has been a long-sought-after fuel source because of its ability to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions but, until now, it hasn’t proven viable,” said team leader Professor Mike Young, from the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Global Food and Resources.

“There is now genuine excitement around the world that hydrogen will play a substantial role in the global energy system with more widespread adoption of hydrogen as a means to access energy.”

“Governments are investing heavily in the development of hydrogen technology and planning to produce it from renewable sources of energy.

Driving factors

The report found the major motivating factor behind most hydrogen strategies is the need to deliver aggressive carbon reductions by mid-century as part of the Paris Agreement to limit the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

In its own strategy released earlier this year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) notes that hydrogen has experienced periods of policy focus before which has subsequently faded.

The IEA said it believes that fundamental conditions are much more supportive of a substantial role for hydrogen in the global energy system today.

In recognition of this reality, many governments are looking to provide a supportive policy environment for hydrogen and related technologies, assist in the search for ways to overcome cost barriers and to help scale up production and create demand.

Another major factor driving some strategies is a desire to encourage the development and commercialisation of specific hydrogen technologies and associated industries as part of the search of new sources of economic growth and to ensure existing sectors remain globally competitive.

Those who can develop and scale-up hydrogen technologies quickly may gain an early mover advantage including access to patents, the report says.

Other factors that motivate hydrogen strategies include a strategic goal to promote national and regional energy security by diversifying existing energy supply chains and facilitating the domestic expansion of renewable energy and improving urban air quality by replacing fossil fuel-based transport and industrial activities with hydrogen alternatives.

Collectively, however, the strategies suggest that these efforts could lead to large scale and rapid deployment of hydrogen technologies from around 2030 onwards.

At the heart of various strategies is a desire to gain a comparative advantage by focusing on particular technologies or sectors and scaling up production and demand in order to reduce the cost of hydrogen technologies relative to existing carbon-intensive technologies.

A major consideration for national strategies is how hydrogen will be produced, transported and stored, including the degree to which hydrogen can be sourced from domestic versus foreign sources, and whether hydrogen should be exported. This is a key deciding factor.

The choice of whether or not to produce or, at least in the early stages, import hydrogen is a factor that can be used to classify strategies. Some countries are planning to import most of their hydrogen while others, for now, are focusing on seeking to become a significant exporter.

Key takeaways

The report found each of the 19 strategies and roadmaps examined seems to have been developed in isolation from one another – there is little sense of collaboration.

Collectively, however, the strategies suggest that these efforts could lead to large scale and rapid deployment of hydrogen technologies from around 2030 onwards.

It says in the period between now and then, the focus must remain on testing and developing technologies, and on ensuring that other enablers for the deployment of hydrogen are in place.

The key takeaway findings from the 19 international hydrogen strategies and roadmaps which are particularly relevant to developing the National Hydrogen Strategy are:

  1. There is considerable international interest in rapidly deploying hydrogen technologies over the next several decades in order to reduce carbon emissions, which could give rise to export opportunities for countries with a comparative advantage in producing hydrogen.
  2. There is considerable uncertainty regarding how quickly hydrogen and competing technologies will develop in terms of their effectiveness and cost-efficiency. Such uncertainty needs to be taken into account in formulating a strategy, either by taking a technological neutral or flexible approach, or not overcommitting down particular pathways.
  3. Hydrogen strategies should ideally be built upon areas of comparative advantage in terms of production and use.
  4. Hydrogen strategies should also reflect the broader international environment, for example by drawing on hydrogen strategies in other countries.
  5. The logistics of the transition to hydrogen should be a core focus of the National Hydrogen Strategy.
  6. The scale of activities should reflect the scale of the transition being targeted.
  7. Access to low cost, low greenhouse gas intensity electricity is likely to be critical to the potential for a hydrogen export trade into the medium term, and for the potential of hydrogen to make a meaningful contribution to domestic greenhouse gas reductions. Availability of suitable geological features for CCS is also likely to be an important cost driver.
  8. International collaboration on standards for technology is potentially important not just for those countries that have comparative advantages in the development of the technology but also for potential users of the technologies developed.
  9. International collaboration is also likely to be necessary on ways to measure and certify the greenhouse gas intensity of hydrogen supplies for end users.

Concluding thoughts

The report concludes that although some strategies are formed on the search for a competitive advantage, international cooperation is needed to establish international standards and facilitate the development of international hydrogen supply chains.

It says the success of these supply chains and hydrogen technologies will be maximised by international collaboration and the sharing of knowledge.

The full report can be found online here.


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