International action “imperative” to securing hydrogen’s future

Image: Supply of unabated fossil, low-carbon and renewable hydrogen, 2020 and in 2030 in 1.5°C-compatible pathways – IEA, IRENA, UN Climate Change High-Level Champions

Hydrogen, while playing a narrow role in today’s energy system, is set to prove vital in supporting a rapid clean energy transition. However, progress to date remains limited and that must change to achieve objectives set under the Breakthrough Agenda.

The Breakthrough Agenda, launched back at COP26 in November last year, commits 45 countries to working together to making clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible and attractive option by 2030 in the five key sectors of power, road transport, steel, agriculture and hydrogen – collectively responsible for nearly 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions today.

As part of efforts to monitor progress, the International Energy Agency (IEA), International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and UN Climate Change High-Level Champions have published the first of what will be an annual report, assessing the actions needed to deliver on the commitments made by the countries.

Within this, the trio stressed that there is both a huge opportunity and a need to strengthen international collaboration, warning that without it, a transition to global net zero emissions could be delayed “by decades”. There has been progress, notably 6.6mn EV sales in 2021 – “a new record” – and a forecast 8% increase in global renewable capacity in 2022, which will see it clear 300GW. However, current efforts are still “far from exploiting the full potential of collaboration to accelerate progress”.

So, what does this mean for hydrogen? In 2020, less than 1Mt of renewable and low carbon hydrogen was produced, a long way short of the 140-155Mt projected to be needed each year by 2030. This leaves production capacity having to double each year between 2023 and 2030, alongside an accelerated deployment of renewable power too. This makes international action and collaboration imperative to secure its future role in the energy transition.

To drive future progress, it went on to make a series of recommendations, envisaging that these will be discussed by world leaders currently attending the Global Clean Energy Action Forum and 13th Clean Energy Ministerial in the United States, which is set to run until 23 September.

For hydrogen, it is calling on governments and companies to coordinate internationally to increase commitments for the use of low carbon and renewable hydrogen in sectors where hydrogen is currently used; for governments and companies to agree upon a comprehensive portfolio of international standards and associated certification schemes for renewable and low carbon hydrogen; and for donor governments and multilateral development banks to make increased levels of concessional finance available for well-targeted, catalytic uses that can mobilise large-scale private investment in hydrogen production, distribution and end-use projects in developing countries.

The report also calls on governments and companies to collaborate to “dramatically increase” both the number and geographical distribution of hydrogen demonstration projects. Care should also be taken here to ensure these appropriately cover each of hydrogen’s high-value end use sectors. It added that governments and the private sector should agree on principles to guide a deeper and more rapid sharing of knowledge form these demonstrators, including a commitment to share the lessons that are learned from all publicly funded projects. It explained that this will help to overcome technology availability barriers and accelerate the pace of deployment in multiple regions in parallel.