By Florian Dommergues and Joël Ruet
Retrospectively, 2021 might well prove to be the breakthrough year for the ecological transition towards climate neutral societies. With the election of Joe Biden, who reinstated the United States in the Paris Agreement hours after coming into office, the ecological transition has gained new momentum.
By the end of 2020, more than 110 countries had pledged to reach climate neutrality by the mid-century, including China by 2060. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has induced an important economic crisis which in response has required the launch of large-scale recovery plans by OECD countries, such as Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue plan, France’s €100 billion recovery plan (of which €30 billion are dedicated to the ecological transition), or the EU’s €1800 billion plan, of which one third is dedicated to the European Green Deal to reach climate neutrality. These plans have been seen as a chance to accelerate further the ecological transition and to invest in the technologies and energies of tomorrow.
In this context, one energy in particular gained particular drive and importance : hydrogen (H2). The aim of this policy brief is therefore to provide an overarching view of the current state of affairs of the hydrogen ecosystem and a review of the existing literature.
We argue that three trends required special attention and allow to have a structured analysis of the field.
First, hydrogen must be approached around the industrial problematics that compose the ecosystems that are emerging around the molecule. One of the decisive dynamic being the interaction between industrial players (both new upcoming players and old industrial fossil fuel players, such as gas utilities) and government public policies which will shape the regulatory environment.
Second, hydrogen in the years to come, will most probably become an object of trade between countries with abundant RES and those with scarcer ones in the years to come. If we analyse these dynamics that notably take the form of bilateral partnerships between states, we argue that for a long time to come hydrogen exports will not take the magnitude nor the forms of standardized transactions, such as oil or natural gas. Indeed, hydrogen cannot be understood as a uniformed commodity, as we stated in a previous policy brief (in french).
Third, the place of green hydrogen in the energy transition must be considered lucidly, what we call a « philosophy of transition ». Hydrogen, if an essential tool of the energy transition, will remain second whenever electrification is possible. It must be considered first and foremost in order to decarbonize industrial uses of hydrogen, then in hard-to-abate sectors and finally as a tool for system integration (providing grid stability and allowing sector coupling).
You can find the full brief here : The current state of play of the hydrogen ecosystems in the world