The transition to a clean energy system will require massive change. For the world to stay on the path towards net zero emissions by mid-century, global hydrogen demand alone should grow to 140 million metric tons (MT) in 2030 and 660 MT in 2050 – up from 90 MT in 20201. And while the necessity of change is clearly recognised today, the scale and complexity of actually making it happen aren’t so easy to fathom.
While most people can already visualise some elements of the future system, such as solar panels, wind turbines, or battery-electric vehicles, the hidden layers that serve the system are sometimes overlooked, but this is where the secret of systemic change lies for the energy sector. Pipelines, tankers, and oil and gas fields handle massive energy flows across large distances every day, taking energy from where there’s plenty to where there’s not enough. In the future global clean energy system, which integrates renewables and electricity, hydrogen will play a critical, complementary role. However, this will depend on building new and retrofitting and repurposing existing infrastructure, as well as creating the trade flows to transport hydrogen via pipelines and shipping around the world.
We know some regions such as Latin America, the Middle East, and Northern Africa have the potential to produce more clean hydrogen than needed for domestic use because of their natural endowment for the generation of renewable energy. Meanwhile, places like Japan and Korea with insufficient renewable sources will need to import most of the 35 MT of hydrogen they require in 20502. For the first category of regions to reap the economic benefits of their export potential, and for the latter to ensure they can get sufficient clean energy from elsewhere, industry, investors and governments need to take action to tackle the challenges of hydrogen transportation, import and export.
Choosing the suitable form to transport hydrogen
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