Zero Emissions Unachievable without Clean Hydrogen

With climate impacts due to increase and many countries lacking in enough domestic renewable resource to satisfy their demand, resilience and developing a clean, flexible and a cost effective resilient energy system will require some practical thinking. So what will be the role of clean hydrogen?

Nadim Chaudhry
May 25, 2022
5 min read
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At Green Power Global we have worked since 2003 in accelerating the energy transition to combat the obvious and clear climate impacts that were baked into the existing, unsustainable energy system. We have worked in many different sectors from biofuels to pv, from geothermal to offshore wind. Initially in the early 2000's GPG focused on the carbon markets, which were developed around the EU's Emission Trading Scheme and the UN's Kyoto Protocol driven CDM (Clean Development Mechanism). At the time it was thought that renewable electricity could never compete with fossil fuels without a functioning global system to cost the true externalities of fossil fuel pollution. The only way to bridge the cost gap between clean renewables and dirty fossils would be with strong, globally interlinked carbon markets. Thus we developed a global portfolio of 10 carbon markets congresses helping to seed many climate mitigation projects. With the fall of the carbon markets after the great financial crisis we started work in renewable electricity.

Much has changed in the intervening years in the electricity markets, with the technology driven disruption of power generation. Led chiefly by the incremental gains of "Swanson’s Law" in photovoltaics (working like his cousin Moore's Law in semiconductors) and the material science and scale of ever larger wind turbines. The scaling up and deployment led innovation of PV and wind has seen the cost of clean electricity generation drop like a stone over the 2 decades.

Yet electricity, traditionally represents just 20% of the final energy demand by value and application. The other 80%, are the vast and profitable markets of heat and mobility, which are largely still fully carbonised with “natural” gas and oil. We believe that clean electricity is now going to provide a much needed way to decarbonise a lot more applications in these heat and mobility markets. If you can electrify something, then do it.

Speaking from personal experience, and as a user of both the humble heat pump and a Tesla, I see few barriers and only a fast and rapid penetration of electricity into these traditional fossil heat and mobility markets, primarily driven by reducing consumer costs, and not the mere byproduct of reducing emissions.

I believe we will indeed see the economics drive a huge switch over to electricity to cover widespread expanding electricity usage towards a huge 70-80% of final energy demand by 2050.  We will see an over provision of electricity generating assets, in order to cope with peak demands and widespread load shedding when electricity is unwanted. Yet we believe penetrating to a “100% electricity only” system will be impossible, impractical and largely inefficient.

With climate impacts due to increase and many countries lacking in enough domestic renewable resource to satisfy their demand, resilience and developing a clean, flexible and a cost effective resilient energy system will require some practical thinking.

So what will be the role of clean hydrogen?

We began working on clean hydrogen back in 2018 and have since launched the World Hydrogen Leaders platform and have now run over 200 clean hydrogen events (training courses, online conferences, market intelligence briefings and physical congresses). There are obvious downsides with assuming that green hydrogen will automatically replace all current natural gas usage. The law of thermodynamics, where every energy conversion costs efficiency, means there is little sense in using electricity to create green hydrogen which one then burns to create electricity. Burning something is inefficient. Unless you are overcoming a major challenge. What are these challenges?  

The limits to using electricity as the sole energy carrier are namely twofold (1) the cost of transporting it long distances and (2)cost of storing it for any length of time. In addition it is technically challenging to build a large, robust, resilient and well run centralised electricity grid that can continuously grow to meet demand, as many power outages in fast developing nations have proven to date.

Huge swathes of the planet have ideal renewable resource profiles but remain far from population and hence energy demand centres. The windy deserts of Arabia, Western Australia and Asia Minor, the winds of Patagonia and the offshore winds of the Northern Sweden are just a few examples of resources that can provide cheap green hydrogen.

Cheap, cost effective green hydrogen can provide vital resilience, storage and a method to transport energy across oceans, under oceans in pipelines or across seasons to offset a European dark winter Dunkelflaute (low pressure, low wind, low solar).

Beyond green hydrogen we believe we are in a race against time to mitigate a rapidly worsening climate emergency. Therefore blue hydrogen or low carbon hydrogen has a role to play. We have the technology and knowhow to rapidly reduce the existing natural gas industry emissions via technology through better downstream emissions monitoring and applying CCS to ALL fossil fuel usage. We do not believe that investments in blue hydrogen will take away investments from green hydrogen. Indeed we see huge challenges in scaling renewable electricity production to meet additional green electricity and green hydrogen demand over the medium term. Therefore we think focus should instead be on measuring the carbon intensity of clean hydrogen (4 grammes of CO2 for 1g of hydrogen). If you have to transport green hydrogen by truck for example it can have a worst emission profile than blue hydrogen. Therefore hydrogen should remain a colourless molecule and be measured instead by carbon intensity.

In terms of applications considerable heat and chemical driven industrial applications in refining, fertilisers, steel making, chemicals, ceramics, glass, concrete will require clean hydrogen and are not easily convertible to electric energy pathways and especially any process that requires over 300 degrees centigrade.

The scale of these early adopter segments are likely to drive the same deployment led innovation that we saw in photovoltaics and wind. For every global doubling of the installed base costs of these technologies their costs reduced by 12-25%.

In terms of mobility, segments that require high power to weight ratios are likely to offset the poor energy conversion of green hydrogen, with the comparative efficiency of compressed or liquefied hydrogen or its derivates such as ammonia, methanol or e-fuels. Heavy duty trucking, aviation, maritime shipping and even space exploration can all be provided for cost effectively in a net zero environment.

Finally a word on value. As renewables become cheaper, electricity cheapens and becomes deflationary (Australia have targeted PV electricity to achieve $0.3 kwhr with 30% photon efficiency by 2030). With ever commoditised electricity will mean that value will shift to the difficult to decarbonise reaches of our energy mix. Clean hydrogen may achieve a 10-30% market share of final energy demand by 2030 in terms of volume but it could represent more in terms of value and dollars. Nonetheless, with clean hydrogen starting as it did in 2020 at basically zero penetration, rapid growth is all but guaranteed in the clean hydrogen industry over the coming decades.

To access over 40 annual, online hydrogen training courses, online conferences, market intelligence briefings and physical congresses please go to