Records show that greenhouse gas emissions are still rising despite the commitment made by countries to the Paris agreement. This means a lot of effort must be made if we are serious about achieving our goals as a planet. In the last one year, the development of hydrogen has been rapid which is a good record for the development of the clean energy sector. Although, there are still areas that need clarification like in every new technology, innovation is the driver to achieving the desired results. Developing countries are having challenges transiting due to energy poverty and energy security issues which are very important factors.
Hydrogen has a crucial role in enabling countries to achieve net zero carbon targets. Apart from being a fuel source and an energy storage solution, hydrogen is one of the long-term, scalable, and cost-effective options for the decarbonization of hard-to-abate sectors such as steel, maritime, aviation, and ammonia. This is because of the opportunities that hydrogen offers. Hydrogen is valued for its versatility, as it can store large volumes of energy for a long time in a transportable form while producing zero CO2 emissions when incinerated (Hydrogen Council, 2019). It can also be used as a feedstock, fuel, an energy carrier, energy storage, and has many possible applications in various fields, such as the transport, industry, power, and building sectors. In addition, hydrogen can power sectors not suitable for electrification. Hydrogen can also provide flexibility to the electricity grid to address intermittency of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Hydrogen is viewed as the missing link in transitioning to a net zero world.
Hydrogen is currently being supplied from fossil fuels, of which around 6% of global natural gas supply and 2% of global coal are being used for hydrogen generation. The conventional production of hydrogen from fossil fuels through steam methane reforming or coal gasification is currently responsible for about 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide released each year, which is equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of UK and Indonesia combined. Hydrogen can address some decarbonization challenges, but hydrogen produced from fossil fuels without CO2 capture (CCUS) cannot form the basis of the future decarbonized economy.
Green hydrogen (hydrogen generated with renewable electricity through electrolysis that splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen) is in line with net zero objectives. To spur the development of ‘green’ hydrogen, some nations have introduced specific targets on ‘green’ hydrogen production capacity, which are intended to promote the development of electrolysis technologies. As a result, electrolysers (the technological devices generating hydrogen via electrolysis) are currently gaining significant attention in Europe and other parts of the world. However, despite the active support of research and development into electrolysers, ‘green’ hydrogen is currently less competitive compared with blue hydrogen which has higher carbon footprints. For instance, in IRENA’s December 2020 report, ‘green’ hydrogen was assessed as being 2–3 times more expensive than ‘blue’ hydrogen, produced from fossil fuels in combination with carbon capture and storage. Therefore, the question of how cost decline in ‘green’ hydrogen production can be achieved, so that it becomes a real competitor to hydrogen with a higher carbon footprint within a shorter period, is of interest to policy makers, industry, and end users. The process of electrolysis from technological, economic, and policy perspectives with a focus on the issues relating to technology maturity, cost, possibility of scaling up and the ability to operate in a flexible mode.
To speed up the energy transition, more countries must be intentional in developing Research and Development Centres for clean energy. The earlier the better, as issues of energy affordability and accessibility are key issues to be settled when it comes to clean energy. There have also been cases of issues concerning certification standards when it comes to clean energy. This is one area where digital technologies like blockchain, IoT devices and other digital technologies can help reduce levels of uncertainties by setting required standards across various countries. Data availability also has a key role to play in ensuring everyone is constantly updated of the changes in their environment. Some people still believe climate change is a myth. I believe data will clear such doubts.
A lot of credit must also be given to those at the forefront of driving the energy transition. Really, it takes a lot of commitment to accomplish our goals and we have seen leadership from world leaders but there is still more to be done. I am passionate and optimistic we will achieve our goals. There will be challenges but with collaboration, we will get there. As much as we are logical, we must be optimistic in achieving our goals as a planet. There are always challenges transiting from one technology to another, but adaptability is one thing humanity has constantly shown over the centuries. We will surmount our current challenges by being open to taking the right steps, having honest conversations and most importantly we shouldn't be afraid of being subject to changes. The change must not be sudden but also, we don't have a lot of time to waste on this journey. The faster, the better for ourselves as a planet. Reports of Climate change have become more adverse as the years pass by, it’s time to show more commitment and responsibility as individuals, companies, and government.
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Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Climate Change: Mitigation of Climate Change.