By Dolf Gielen, Director Innovation and Technology, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)
Addressing climate change has become an overriding driver for energy transition. More and more countries are setting objectives for achieving net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century, but the strategies designed to get us there remain subject to intense debate.
Pushing green hydrogen to embrace the energy transition
Clearly renewable electricity has a role to play, driven by the falling cost of renewable power generation. Electromobility and other forms of electrification, with increased renewable power generation, can further reduce emissions. But attention is now focusing on the remaining emissions in building heating, transport and energy-intensive industries. This is where hydrogen can be a potential gamechanger for accelerating global energy transitions worldwide.
Hydrogen production from natural gas and coal is a substantial source of CO2 emissions. This “grey” hydrogen accounts for about 98% of all hydrogen production today. However, clean, either “blue” or “green” hydrogen can replace it.
Blue hydrogen is also a product of fossil fuels, but in this case, systems capture and store the CO2 emissions. Green hydrogen, on the other hand, is
e from water electrolysis using renewable electricity. Tremendous momentum exists, with over 200 hydrogen projects announced across the world. Also, with more than USD 300 billion in investments planned through 2030 .
Green hydrogen accounts for only 1% of total hydrogen supply. Besides, it is a by-product of chlorine production through electrolysis using renewable electricity. Dedicated green hydrogen production is even less, representing around 0.04% of .
, high ambitions exist to upscale green hydrogen production. The private sector “Catapult initiative” aims to achieve 25 GW of electrolyzer capacity by 2026, up from 0.3 GW today. The total project pipeline for electrolyzers in the coming decade is in the 60-80 GW range.
In fact, the reason for this optimism is that renewable hydrogen could break even on costs. For instance, with gray hydrogen before 2030 in optimal regions.
The cost of green hydrogen has mainly two components: the renewable electricity price and the . Recent IRENA analysis suggests a significant cost reduction potential for electrolyzers to 200-400 USD/kW within the next ten years. Particularly, based on optimization of materials choice, re-design and economies of scale in electrolyzer manufacturing. A combination of low-cost renewable power and electrolyzers can yield green hydrogen at 1.5 USD/kg. Yet supporting policies will be necessary to “buy down” green hydrogen.
A deeper outlook
Even at 1.5 USD per kilogram, green hydrogen is premium fuel. For instance, translating to 12 USD per one thousand British thermal units (MBTU); compared to 2-4 USD/MBTU for natural gas in the United States. This price gap translates into an economic value of avoided climate damage of more than 100 USD per every tone of CO2.
While low-cost natural gas might favor blue hydrogen, concerns remain however regarding the upstream methane . Also, on the CO2 storage efficiency. Existing blue hydrogen projects are cases where CO2 is then the base for enhanced oil recovery. No systems are yet in place to monitor the fate of underground CO2 and potential leakages. Blue hydrogen projects will need to prove their carbon neutrality and still withstand scrutiny.
The latest IRENA scenarios assume blue and green hydrogen by 2050. The total hydrogen volume may increase two to five-fold. Notably, depending on climate ambition levels in line with the Paris Agreement of well below towards 1.5-degrees.
A path towards decarbonization
Moving forward, hydrogen-based commodities such as green ammonia, renewable methanol and direct reduced iron may gain prominence. At the same time, hydrogen can complement or even replace natural gas in pipeline systems; thus enabling carbon mitigation in buildings and industrial heating systems. Several pilot projects are currently under development in Europe for example.
While hydrogen may not be a low-cost option for decarbonization, its role in combination with low-carbon technologies in global decarbonization is evident; particularly in industry, heating, and heavy-duty transport. Thus, Green hydrogen represents a paradigm shift that may affect future natural gas prospects. in brief, The impact on the United States energy sector may be profound.
Therefore, what we need is an enabling framework and enhanced International cooperation that facilitate a sustainable energy transition. Accordingly, IRENA’s Collaborative Framework for Green Hydrogen was established to accelerate this transition globally. Around 65 countries and private sector key players such as the Hydrogen Council regularly engage on our platform. Finally, standards and certification for green hydroge