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Accelerating Adoption of Hydrogen: A Concrete Action on Net-zero

Source: Science and Technology Daily | 2022-04-21 09:31:25 | Author: Beate Trankmann

By Beate Trankmann

We stand at a pivotal time in history. Six years into adopting the Paris Agreement, progress is way off track. This week’s latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) once again stressed the stark reality facing us. As former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres put it, the report’s findings are simply “terrifying” and what’s at stake is the “long-term wellbeing of the entire web of life on this planet.”

While there have been glimmers of hope as countries commit to more ambitious climate targets and roll out new national policies, we need to do more. If we are to follow through on the Paris Agreement and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals within this decade, these commitments must be underpinned by concrete plans and swift actions from all parts of society.

To this end, the recent release of China’s “2021-2035 Plan on Hydrogen Energy Development”, by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the National Energy Administration (NEA), has been critically important. Emphasizing the need for hydrogen production from renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, the Plan sets the stage for game-changing, zero-carbon solutions, which have the potential to fundamentally transform high-emissions sectors.

Indeed, the development of China’s green hydrogen sector has long been a priority for us at UNDP. We have been working closely with ministries and cities on the production and commercialization of fuel cell vehicles since 2003. Recently, we have expanded our focus to supporting China with renewable energy-based hydrogen production, harnessing the role of green hydrogen in energy and industries, and technical vocational training for a hydrogen economy.

With the new Hydrogen Plan in place, I want to take this opportunity to highlight some key issues for its successful roll-out:

First, to deploy green hydrogen at-scale, it is important to drive both supply and demand at the same time.

On the supply side, reducing the cost of hydrogen, in particular electrolysers, is critical. According to the IEA, as of October last year, electrolyser projects in the pipeline will have capacity of over 260 GW  globally. However, IRENA estimates that the cost of green hydrogen could be reduced by as much as 85%  through making renewable energy and electrolysers cheaper and more efficient.

To drive the technological innovation necessary to increase electrolyser performance, durability, and reliability, we need cross-disciplinary cooperation and joint efforts from research, financiers, and industries. This will allow for the production of low-cost green hydrogen at scale, which can provide a cleaner and more secure energy supply to off-takers, and most importantly, result in a lower carbon footprint.

On the demand side, hydrogen-based energy solutions have the greatest potential for impact in high emission sectors, but industries must act swiftly. Over 78% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from three sectors: energy, transport, and industry. The decarbonisation of these sectors requires diversified solutions that complement electrification through renewables with green hydrogen. It is therefore encouraging to see China’s new Hydrogen Plan emphasising the importance of combining these low-carbon solutions.

However, considering the years of lead-time needed before solutions can be deployed at scale, pilots for fuel shifts need to start now. To this end, decarbonisation roadmaps for high-emissions industries such as iron and steel making, ammonia, and cement production should be established with ambitious targets and timelines for green hydrogen adoption.

Second, to grow the hydrogen economy at scale, a completely new infrastructure is required starting from the regional level. It’s challenging for investors to commit to developing hydrogen supply and distribution infrastructure when there is no certainty in demand. To solve this problem, the production and consumption of hydrogen can be set up in concentrated geographic clusters. By doing so, a comprehensive hydrogen ecosystem and value chain can be developed with various end-use applications all sharing a common infrastructure. This will help manage costs, attract investment and secure more off-take agreements, allowing for growth of the hydrogen economy.

Third, the positive impacts of green hydrogen go beyond reducing emissions. A green hydrogen economy at scale also has potential socio-economic benefits. For example, according to research, approximately 54,000 jobs are created per mega tonne of hydrogen produced. This presents an important opportunity in particular for regions with high renewable energy potential, but otherwise lower levels of industrialisation, by providing avenues for the creation of quality jobs in emerging green industries thereby advancing inclusive growth.

In addition, industries where hydrogen is currently being produced as an unutilised by-product could harness this resource to create further jobs and help make up for job losses that are likely going to occur in traditional sectors as part of the green economy transition.

Lastly, strengthened financial regulations are important to help accelerate the adoption of green hydrogen. As energy from renewables continues to become cheaper compared to fossil fuels, it is clear that high-carbon technologies are set to become stranded assets. Targeted policies can help speed up the transition away from fossil fuels towards low-carbon solutions like green hydrogen by generating price signals factoring in the social and environmental costs of brown industries.

This can help tip the balance for investors by further narrowing the profit margin of investing in carbon-intensive projects, especially given the cost of potentially having to ultimately de-commission or retrofit with carbon capture and storage. Combined with institutionalised standards and mandating climate-related risk disclosure, price-based incentive mechanisms can make green hydrogen an increasingly attractive option, accelerating investments into its wider deployment.

In closing, let me re-emphasize UNDP’s commitment and readiness to continue our support for the future development of green hydrogen. In particular, we will look to further international cooperation and knowledge exchange on green hydrogen production, co-develop and implement pilot projects aiming to expand the use of green hydrogen in powering our industries, buildings, and modes of transportation, and help to prepare people for the future of work in the hydrogen economy.

Hydrogen is no longer a future aspiration. The will is clear, the technology is here, and we’re more prepared than ever to bring it to scale. The time for action is now to save our planet from the irreversible consequences of climate change and protect it for future generations.

(Ms. Beate Trankmann is the Resident Representative of UNDP China)

Editor: 余昊原

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