Hydrogen has emerged as an important part of the clean energy mix needed to ensure a sustainable future.
Falling costs for hydrogen produced with renewable energy, combined with the urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, has given clean hydrogen unprecedented political and business momentum.
As world leaders gathered in New York this week to discuss climate action solutions, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) contributed to building a community of stakeholders that looked at the emerging solution of clean hydrogen.
Led by the World Economy Forum (WEF), the initiative aims to explore the role of hydrogen in the energy transition and advance on the clean hydrogen agenda.
At a side event hosted by WEF, IRENA presented key findings of its new report Hydrogen: a renewable energy perspective and emphasized the expected growing role of renewables-based hydrogen in the future energy mix.
IRENA said it projects an 8% share of total global final energy consumption to be attributed to hydrogen by 2050.
The new report finds that hydrogen from renewables can help tackle various critical energy challenges and could particularly offer ways to decarbonise a range of sectors where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce CO2 emissions.
According to the report: “The current policy debate suggests that now is the time to scale up technologies and to bring down costs to allow hydrogen to become widely used:
- Hydrogen can help tackle various critical energy challenges. It offers ways to decarbonise a range of sectors – including intensive and long-haul transport, chemicals, and iron and steel – where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce emissions. It can also help improve air quality and strengthen energy security. In addition, it increases flexibility in power systems.
- Hydrogen is versatile in terms of supply and use. It is a free energy carrier that can be produced by many energy sources.
- Hydrogen can enable renewables to provide an even greater contribution. It has the potential to help with variable output from renewables, such as solar photovoltaics (PV). Hydrogen is one of the options for storing energy from renewables and looks poised to become a lowest-cost option for storing large quantities of electricity over days, weeks or even months. Hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels can transport energy from renewable sources over long distances.
At the same time, the widespread use of clean hydrogen in global energy transitions faces several challenges:
- Today, hydrogen is almost entirely supplied from natural gas and coal. Hydrogen is already deployed at the industrial scale across the globe, but its production is responsible for annual CO2 emissions equivalent to those of Indonesia and the United Kingdom (UK) combined.
- Producing hydrogen from low-carbon energy is currently costly. However, the costs of producing hydrogen from renewable electricity are falling rapidly.
- Hydrogen must be used much more widely. Today, hydrogen is used mostly in oil refining and for the production of ammonia. For it to make a significant contribution to the clean energy transition, it must also be adopted in sectors where it is currently almost completely absent, such as transport, buildings and power generation.
- The development of hydrogen infrastructure is a challenge and is holding back widespread adoption. New and upgraded pipelines and efficient and economic shipping solutions require further development and deployment.
- Regulations currently limit the development of a clean hydrogen industry. Government and industry must work together to ensure that existing regulations are not an unnecessary barrier to investment.”
The IRENA report provides a more in-depth perspective on the nexus between hydrogen and renewable energy, on hydrogen supply economics in light of the rapidly falling cost of renewables and the role of hydrogen in the energy transition, as well as on existing challenges that have hampered hydrogen development to date.
The report addresses the following questions:
- What are the specific economic characteristics of green hydrogen (from renewables) and blue hydrogen (from fossil fuels with CCUS) today and in the future?
- How can hydrogen accelerate the deployment of renewable energy, and how can renewable energy accelerate the deployment of hydrogen?
- What aspects of the “green” hydrogen supply chain should be the main focus of research and development (R&D) and innovation?
- How can hydrogen contribute to the decarbonisation of end-uses in various sectors?
- What will be the characteristics of future hydrogen trade?
The report can be read in full here.