Even one year ago hydrogen would have been regarded as an interesting niche technology – but rather science-fiction than a future cornerstone of the European Green Deal. As with many other important historical disruptions, the pandemic has also led to viewing this technology from a different angle on a global level. This became visible this very week when John Kerry visited Berlin in order to prepare a joint approach with the Europeans towards the next big climate conference: The former US- Vice-President mentioned green hydrogen continuously at the same level as electrification. And this mirrors the importance that has been attributed to hydrogen by the Europeans already a year now, starting with the launch of the European hydrogen strategy in July last year.
Including renewable produce hydrogen into the energy, mobility and industry scenario leads to major shifts with regards to policies, investments and overall expectations. And this is good because we have to use the technology which helps us to quickly achieve palpable results in the “battle” for zero-emissions that we all strive for. But this situation unequivocally leads to distribution struggles. The issues on the agenda are: Who should be favored by which legislation? Who should be invited to conferences preparing big decisions? Who would be justified to receive public funding? Who will be favored by private investment?
Picking up a thought mentioned already: We do not need to focus on technology A versus technology B, but maintain technological openness and focus on those solutions that allow us to achieve our goals in the best way. I believe that even the advocates for an all-electric scenario have rightly understood that hydrogen will most probably become the other leg of the energy, mobility and industry transition next to electrification.
There is a reason for this – a report by the IEA has recently clearly shown that an all-electric scenario requires a massive shift of raw materials and rare soils that might block or delay a perspective based on electrons. And this is why non-emitting molecules that are suited for a circular economy have reached this new attention. Whereas electric was associated with sustainability over the last decade it now becomes more and more obvious that climate efficiency as an overarching goal requires a circular rather than a linear economy. The all-electric scenario though shows many linear aspects of being extremely resource intensive and at the same time not efficient in recycling, especially with regards to battery technologies.
However, the reaction of the proponents of the one and only electric solution is interesting. Whereas they agree that hydrogen will play an important role, they tend more and more to exclude the use of hydrogen for certain sectors and areas. They call it prioritisation. For instance, hydrogen should be excluded from passenger cars, they say. Some of the most radical advocates for battery technologies, like the CEO of Volkswagen Herbert Diess endeavour to support statements that lack a proper factual basis. In a recent tweet the CEO mixed up synthetic fuels with hydrogen and questioned the efficiency of fuel cell cars by quoting the wrong study. While this may have been a mistake, this shows how vulnerable the narrative of battery only has become when even the CEO of the biggest OEM on Earth starts to use inadequate data to make his case.
Our joint climate effort is too important and too serious to leave it to these kinds of arguments and if I may so, polemics. The mainstream of studies has acknowledged that the circular and non-admittance property of hydrogen makes it a talent to turn. The transition into a fast and affordable renewable energy sector, safeguarding and creating new jobs across Europe is what we have to focus on. The pandemic will be over in a bit, and we have to restart our economy. It is therefore time to let every sector, every country and every society have access to hydrogen as an agent of climate mitigation.
In the end, it will be pure market forces, the price development and the sheer volume and availability of hydrogen that will decide which sectors of the economy will make use of it. This is the time where we need to join forces. We should use data in any argument ethically, let´s not indulge in allegations or aggressive campaigns. We should overcome this in order to help create a sustainable, clean Europe that will serve as a worldwide beacon of what really can be achieved with the joint efforts of a whole continent.