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Green hydrogen ‘right answer’ for sectors that are difficult to electrify: IRENA

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Green hydrogen could be the solution for sectors that rely on fossil fuels for energy and remain difficult to electrify as climate change remains a challenge, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Francesco La Camera said.

Green hydrogen is a more climate-friendly energy source, making use of renewable energy technology to split water and create hydrogen. This differs from other hydrogen extraction methods, such as blue hydrogen which is created through splitting methane, creating greenhouse gases which are then stored to prevent climate damage, and grey hydrogen, created in a similar way to blue hydrogen but with greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

“The fact is that there are sectors, such as the long shipping transport, the heavy industry, the big chemical petrochemical plants, that are difficult to electrify. And in this sector, green hydrogen could be the right answer because of its own characteristics. The advantage of green hydrogen is in its role as an energy carrier and a storage tool and will be very useful for the electrification of the sectors,” Camera told Al Arabiya’s Naser El Tibi.

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However, while the outlook for green hydrogen from an environmentally perspective is rosy, the cost difference between it and blue hydrogen, its closest competitor, can make it a difficult pill to swallow. In December, IRENA noted that green hydrogen is somewhere between two to three times more expensive than blue hydrogen.

“It is true the blue hydrogen could be today financially speaking more competitive than green hydrogen. But if you also consider the environmental costs, this competitiveness will vanish,” Camera said.

“The key for making green hydrogen more competitive essentially is the continuing decline in the cost of the renewables, in addition to the declining cost of electrolyzer. So, for getting these costs down we have to put the right policies in place,” he added.

Green hydrogen better than ‘retrofitting the past’

The coronavirus pandemic upended the energy industry in 2020, as demand for petroleum and industrial products slumped while health authorities and governments issued stay-at-home orders and mandated lockdowns.

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, new investments in fossil fuel production have also decreased, with major oil firms announcing that billions of dollars of investments will no longer take place. This dynamic, however, has not occurred in the renewable market, Camera explained.

“During 2020, renewables have been the most resilient way to produce energy. This means that the share of the renewables into the energy grids has been much higher than the past, and much higher than the fossil fuel energy production. Also, most important to say is that we have seen that the investments have not decreased,” he said.

Camera did note that definitive data has yet to be released now, but that “we can surely say that the difference that we have seen in 2020 between the size of the new installed capacity of renewables and that of traditional sources of power is going to rise dramatically this year.”

With this dynamic at play, Camera went on to urge for continued investment in renewable energy, with green hydrogen as a viable alternative rather than switching to the potentially more environmentally damaging blue hydrogen.

“Going directly to promote green hydrogen renewables could be a better choice than going for retrofitting the past … The fact is that we have to think about the energy system of the future, and the energy system of the future will be characterized by more interlinkages, more interconnection and flexibility,” he said.

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