Green hydrogen has the potential to be the fuel of the future. By speeding up development through a global alliance there could be pilot programs up and running by 2025 and a great part of the world’s energy needs met in a couple of decades.
“It is exciting because it is not limited to one single sector; its applicability lies in renewables and storage, in industry, in transportation. That is why I call it a foundational fuel.”, says Arunabha Ghosh, Founder-CEO of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), and a member of the Climate Governance Commission.
In his upcoming report “A global green hydrogen alliance”, Arunabha Ghosh suggests, from a global governance perspective, exactly that – a global alliance on green hydrogen.
Ready – with gaps
Traditional hydrogen production uses fossil fuels whilst green hydrogen uses renewable energy, ie a cleaner way of producing fuel that in its turn can “clean up” other sectors.
Moreover, in contrast to earlier decades when hydrogen also has been hailed as a future energy source but failed to deliver, today science and technology has evolved and there are no fundamental research blocks to overcome. The biggest challenges instead lie in costs, finding incremental solutions and demonstrating commercial scale.
“If you google hydrogen or green hydrogen you will be inundated with so much going on that you think actually nothing is required. But when you start looking at how it is happening you realise there are still a lot of gaps in terms of technology, finance and governance that need to be addressed.”
Hurdles to overcome
There are only about a dozen countries including the EU, that have some sort of hydrogen program, though not necessarily on green hydrogen. Similarly, collaborations so far are mostly concentrated within a few countries in Europe, North America and the Middle East.
“The first hurdle is a path dependency in terms of some countries having already established their own national programs and not wanting to break out of that mould.” says Arunabha Ghosh and raises two other objections concerning intellectual property and technology divides.
“Countries and companies are obviously interested in retaining this technology to themselves which would get them in the lead. You can imagine the incentives to hold on to intellectual property.”
“We could end up where only some countries are doing the research, thus leaving a large part of the world out of the loop.”
But the biggest obstacle Arunabha Ghosh sees is lack of leadership and not being visionary enough.
“We have to think about who would control the technology and how widely would it be disseminated? How difficult would it be for countries that don’t have the technology to be able to reduce their emissions?We have to take a planetary and climate perspective on how foundational fuels are developed and distributed.”
According to Arunabha Ghosh the most important step towards an alliance is a global inventory of hydrogen programs and activities.
“It is a rapidly evolving space but the more we know the easier it is to connect different companies and initiatives.”
The second step is an international level assessment of the technology itself, advances and challenges.
A third step should take into consideration geographical aspects; to set up and promote more bilateral leads, especially in countries and regions where demand for hydrogen will grow quickly.
“This is a principle that has been followed in for instance the International Solar Alliance (ISA). Under one umbrella you can have multiple task forces and working groups consisting of different countries and companies.”
A fourth step would be the pooling of resources whether its financial or human, capital or laboratories, all to enhance the potential for a joint R&D.
“Again there are examples such as CERN or the Human Genome Project.”
“Finally; some kind of sovereign guarantees to underwrite the risks associated with large scale finance. If so, we could quickly take results from the lab and put it into pilot demonstrations.”
Arunabha Ghosh means that none of the above requires a brick and mortar structure as in a new organisation. “Instead it can be much more loosely networked with a governing council overseeing progress. This is also why this kind of an alliance doesn’t slow down the technology that it is meant to promote.”
In the context of building a global green hydrogen alliance Arunabha Ghosh emphasises target orientation. “It is similar to the development of the Covid-vaccines. What we need in this area is that kind of urgency.”
Arunabha Ghosh adds that the Covax-initiative also could function as a role model in the perspective of fairness and meeting demands.
“The pandemic offers us the lesson that the sense of emergency, mission direction and demand aggregation all can be principles applied even to a technology like green hydrogen. We can have pilot programs up and running by 2025.”