Using hydrogen in the battle against climate change
The vision of a world powered by hydrogen was born in 1874 with Jules Verne’s novel “Mysterious island”. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, a power source in aerial form, which can be produced using renewables such as the sun or the wind and it only emits water when used as a fuel. Moreover, it can be transferred to great distances and be stored for a long time using existing infrastructure.
Until today, renewable hydrogen had a prohibitive cost, however through technological development in the last few years, the sector is convinced that it will play a basic part in the planet’s energy future.
Italy, for example, can be a pioneer through its geographic location, its business and research abilities and its institutional sensitivity. Southern Italy and Mediterranean countries in general who are rich in renewable energy, can turn hydrogen into the new clean source of energy and at the same time create opportunities for development and employment.
The challenge of climate change
In their official communique during the recent climate summit, nation leaders said that “our generation is, perhaps, the last with the chance to effectively fight the upcoming global climate crisis”, a crisis that unfortunately is substantiated by numbers, since in 2018 CO2 emissions of the energy sector rose even more compared to previous years, reaching 33 billion tonnes, the highest point ever. UNEP estimates that at this rate, the global temperature rise will be more than 3 degrees by 2100 compared to preindustrial times, far surpassing the limits set by the Paris Accord in 2015. According to the results, efforts made so far are important, but unfortunately isolated and do not leave a margin for optimism.
Therefore, it is important to raise the share of electricity produced by renewables in the energy mix, which although rising, represents just 20% of energy demand today. Since a plan is needed for the rest of the system, it is important that Europe takes the initiative globally in climate change. Nonetheless, today it represents just 10% of emissions and cannot make this on its own. Therefore, a global commitment is more vital than ever, which will create economic opportunities for all citizens, distributing costs fairly and minimizing them. In other words, it takes a coordinated effort between different energy sectors.
Combining power and hydrogen
It is difficult to find common solutions between the “world of electrons” (power) and molecules (oil, natural gas and their derivatives). Almost everywhere, these two macroeconomic sectors are organized in separate structures who apart from the same language, have completely different goals.
Today the framework is changing and there are two reasons to cause modest optimism. First, citizens have begun to be more active and change their way of life with young people as pioneers who jolt public opinion encouraging adults, institutions, companies, decision makers to take decisive action.
It is not just about making power production more ecological and increase its use, but also to reduce industrial, transport and heating CO2 emissions by using biomethane, CCS and hydrogen from renewable sources.
Hydrogen, as underlined in the study presented in the G20 summit of Osaka by IEA, has all the prerequisites to become an effective, global and economic solution and help renewables in the effort to decarbonize energy systems.
Hydrogen can become a basic part in fighting climate change and pollution and it can mainly be used as a bridge between different energy sectors, given the fact that it can be produced by electricity and be used as a fuel or as a power source.
The use of hydrogen met many obstacles during its establishment in recent years. One such obstacle is the cost, however important steps are being made, according to analyses in the book “Generation H” by Italian Snam, expected to be published shortly.
Specifically, it mentions that through the right economies of scale, the cost of hydrogen by renewables can be reduced to around 2 dollars per kg and by 2030 to 1 dollar per kg, versus the current price of 5 dollars per kg. In this way, the use of hydrogen would become competitive even without subsidies in many energy sectors.
All transport bodies able to play a crucial part towards this direction, since many companies have already experimented with using a mix of hydrogen and natural gas in their installations. They can also guarantee a network connecting producers with the markets, but also a network of ideas to promote dialogue.