Hydrogen - The energy of the future

Hydrogen is a fast-growing renewable, the use of which offers substantial benefits to the construction industry. It can be delivered to sites much like traditional fossil fuels and can be used in fuel cells to generate electricity, power and heat – which emit only water and thus are a zero, or near-zero emission option.

Offering a far longer range and usage, hydrogen fuel cell technology is well suited to replace diesel generators and machinery on construction sites. Unlike their electric battery counterparts, they do not need recharging regularly – thus easing pressure on businesses to send out teams to sites in order to replace, recharge and service them.

Reliable and durable too, hydrogen fuel cells are not weather dependent – unlike other renewable energy sources – making them a dependable choice on busy construction sites.

Hydrogen will play a role in decarbonization

Hydrogen, when produced from clean electricity, is seen by many as a critical enabler of the global transition to sustainable energy and a vital component of achieving net-zero emissions economies. However, it is currently limited to a select few industrial applications and is more costly than other fossil fuel alternatives.

Nevertheless, the global hydrogen market is picking up speed and for good reason. Hydrogen, also known as H2, will play an important role as an energy carrier, which enables the transfer of energy from one place to another.

Indeed, it can help drive the decarbonization of entire industrial sectors and combat climate change in the process – be it as e-fuel in the transport sector or as a way of reducing emissions in steel production and numerous other industries. Hydrogen can also play a vital role in getting energy to areas where it is usually imported. Energy can be produced competitively in areas where renewables such as wind are abundantly available, converted into hydrogen or other molecules, and then transported to import regions.

Finally, energy stored as hydrogen will help stabilize increasingly volatile power grids. Even when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, we need sources of electricity that can step in and ensure that blackouts remain things of the past.

Hydrogen Targets

Targets for the deployment of hydrogen production technologies are growing. National targets for the deployment of electrolysis capacity total 145-190 GW, more than double the 74 GW of last year. However, there has been very limited progress in establishing targets to increase demand for low-emission hydrogen:

  • Cumulative targets for the use of low-emission hydrogen in industrial applications cover only around 4% of current global hydrogen demand (around 4 Mt H2) compared with slightly more than 3% last year.

  • In transport, global targets for the deployment of FCEVs grew by just 13% in 2021, to reach a global objective of close to 1.2 million vehicles.

  • Targets in areas like hydrogen blending, power generation and the use of hydrogen in domestic applications remained limited to a couple of examples in each of these sectors.

Governments have also adopted targets for infrastructure development (particularly for hydrogen refuelling stations).

Energy transition will involve working together

We must now get hydrogen technology standards to an industrial level and actively shape the market, throughout the entire value chain, for all of this to work. This task will require courage and drive, along with a strong belief in the ultimate success of the transition.

To achieve this, partnerships are needed among political leaders, the business community and society as a whole, along with dynamic action. In essence, we must work together – now!

The job now is to scale up the industry and economically produce hydrogen from renewables – namely, “green” hydrogen. Here, too, signs are pointing in the right direction. The rates for renewable electricity needed to produce green hydrogen are falling, as are prices for the electrolyzers that are used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Move to renewables will change global structures

To pull off this trick, we will need a second important component: trust. Why? Because a sustainable energy system based on renewables will massively change the political structures of the world. Something that may be good for the global climate could lead to serious geopolitical upheavals and this issue must be discussed openly and honestly.

What will the expansion of hydrogen mean for relationships among traditional exporters of fossil fuels, new hydrogen producers and existing import markets? As global trade flows shift, new political alliances will emerge and existing exporters will lose influence.

One thing is clear. Today’s exporters of fossil fuels are gaining some competition. The growth of renewables will favour regions where the wind frequently blows or the sun regularly shines.

Energy transition offers opportunities for all

Despite all of the geopolitical risks that the energy transition entails, it offers immense opportunities for traditional exporters of energy, importers and new suppliers. It is an effort that will require deeper international trade relations, technology transfers and a political framework to ensure that a successful energy transition leaves no-one behind.

So we should adopt the motto of this year's World Economic Forum: “Working together, restoring trust.” If political leaders, business and society as a whole take this to heart, hydrogen can play an important role in the energy transition. Let’s seize these opportunities – collectively and confidently.