• Hydrogen can provide zero-emissions transport and energy.
  • The EU is investing up to €180 billion by 2050 to roll out hydrogen power.
  • There needs to be a global market for hydrogen to meet climate goals.

The coronavirus pandemic has sent shockwaves through societies and economies. It has also given us a glimpse into what a better future might look like – with lower CO2 emissions, improved air quality and more appreciation for the environment around us.

This crisis has been described as a "great reset", a catalyst for change, an opportunity to “build back better”. So, while political and business leaders are now deciding how to reboot economies, investing trillions into essential sectors such as energy and transport, there is a clear case to use this pivotal moment to build a more resilient future.

On the cusp of a global energy transformation that would drastically reduce emissions and clean up our most polluting industries, we need long-term thinking and massive investments in game-changing, systemic solutions – and this is where hydrogen comes in. Hydrogen technologies can make our economies cleaner, more secure and more resilient – providing zero-emission energy and transport solutions, enabling deep industrial decarbonisation, helping renewables maximize their potential through storage, and complementing other technologies that will be essential to reach global climate targets, such as batteries.

Who’s leading the global effort?

The European Union has just launched its new Hydrogen Strategy with a projected investment of up to €180 billion by 2050 to scale up and roll out clean hydrogen. South Korea has also announced it will spend 114.1 trillion won (€82 billion) on green projects – including investment in electric and hydrogen vehicles. Another example comes from Germany, which has designated €9 billion to expand its hydrogen capacity at home and abroad.

This said, global climate ambitions cannot be achieved if actions like these remain isolated. For hydrogen to fulfil its potential as a master key to unlock vast benefits across various sectors and applications, it must be viewed as a systemic play – and this takes global effort.

So where is the rest of the world? That’s the question we asked, as part of the Hydrogen Council – a worldwide 80+-strong CEO coalition working to enable the global energy transition through hydrogen – when we virtually brought together our members along with hydrogen industry associations from Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Europe, the USA, and Canada to assess what kinds of plans and measures governments are now putting in place.

What quickly became clear is that there is encouraging movement around the world; Europe shows the way and has truly placed hydrogen at the heart of its recovery plan; but given the nature of hydrogen technologies, this may not be enough. For Europe to reap the benefits of its ambitious plan, it needs a global market for hydrogen. Vice versa, only if others take advantage of and follow Europe’s bold move, can we scale up hydrogen to the level needed to achieve our shared climate targets.

2050 targets are only an investment cycle away

In short, whether or not other geographies follow the footsteps of those leading the way in the coming months will define the success of hydrogen and the clean energy transition for at least a generation.

A recent International Energy Agency report makes a compelling case for the need to speed up investment in clean energy technologies such as hydrogen. It warns against a “CO2 lock in”, stating that our 2050 targets are just one investment cycle away for many industries. For hydrogen technologies, it is fundamental to reach scale in this decade with tangible projects and fast execution times to bring down costs.

The latest Hydrogen Council report shows that this is achievable far sooner than previously thought and hydrogen could soon compete with not only other low-carbon, but also conventional, alternatives. Today’s stimulus packages, which amount to trillions, are an opportunity to redirect funds from propping up systems that no longer suit our post-COVID world, into clean technologies that will have long-term environmental and economic benefits.

hydrogen energy future
Predictions for the future competitiveness of hydrogen
Image: Hydrogen Council

While opinions may differ on recovery approaches, it’s clear that dramatic changes are needed in the ways we produce, distribute, store and consume energy around the world, and right now we have a truly unique opportunity. The decisions governments, industry and investors make today will either rewind or fast-forward the clean transition, with ripple effects for the recovery and the economy. A secure and affordable clean energy future is possible if we place hydrogen at the core. Just like renewables had their breakthrough in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, this shall be the decade of hydrogen, and we are committed to making this happen so that the legacy we create today is a more sustainable and resilient future for generations to come.