World Hydrogen Summit 2024 – Brief Summary Thoughts

I had the opportunity to attend the 2024 World Hydrogen Summit in Rotterdam as part of this Churchill Fellowship trip. Hydrogen is viewed as having several possible roles in the energy transition, including the decarbonisation of hard to abate sectors (like aviation, shipping, steel and cement), a means of using excess renewable energy that can’t be taken up by the grid, and a storage and transportation vector for energy (renewable and otherwise).

There’s plenty of commentary in the wild about what hydrogen is, and isn’t good for. Some of this is covered in my previous blog post, and some of this was discussed at the Summit. Although, as an event focused on the hydrogen sector, there’s always an element of boosterism that creeps in.

That said, it was interesting and provided some fantastic perspective in terms of what other countries are doing, and how the hydrogen story is playing out globally. Some of the key themes that came up, often repeatedly:

  • The industry needs alignment of regulation, at a global level
    • This provides greater certainty to industry and finance, but also smooths the cross-border trade that has been a key part of hydrogen strategy in many jurisdictions
  • Regulation needs to have a mixture of carrots and sticks
    • It also means penalties, like putting a price on carbon or (in jurisdictions where that’s been politically poisonous, like Australia) forcing industries into using alternative (potentially hydrogen-based) fuels
  • There is a need for an agreed-upon certification of carbon intensity
    • Labels like ‘green’ (renewably-produced) and ‘blue’ (produced from gas with CCS) are falling out of favour, with industry and jurisdictions instead seeking an agreed measure of the carbon-intensity of the hydrogen, to allow production to be technology-agnostic but ultimately measured by its carbon footprint.
      • This is particularly important where incentives/penalties come into play for more/less carbon-intensive variants
  • The role of blue hydrogen in the energy transition fluctuates
    • Renewably produced hydrogen has always been the preferred end-state, but there’s argument about the role of using gas and CCS to make hydrogen as a transitional state, as it is cheaper
      • Some would argue this is a sensible economic position to take as the industry seeks to scale up
      • Others would suggest that it is simply the oil and gas lobby looking to extend their relevance in the hydrogen sector
      • There’s probably an element of truth to both
  • There is a lot of work being done on the supply side, but ultimately the sector needs solid demand and off-take agreements to underpin project financials and develop a viable market for low-carbon/clean hydrogen and hydrogen derivatives
  • The list of projects is slowly whittling down as a range of factors (often cost-related) knock out unviable projects, or push back the final investment decision (FID) on others
  • Increased focus on domestic use and processing, rather than production and export
    • Initially, just about every country with renewable energy potential thought they would use that cheap energy to produce green hydrogen and establish an export market. The practicalities and economics of this approach are becoming increasingly fraught, so the need to develop domestic use cases is growing in importance
      • This means things like green iron/green steel – which felt like a strongly emerging trend – to provide a local use for hydrogen and mechanism to stimulate the sector more broadly
  • When green hydrogen is being developed, it’s competing for green electrons with existing grids and economies
    • Is it sensible, or even ethical, to be producing green hydrogen for export in places that are yet to decarbonise their own grids and industry? Is there a greater global climate impact by seeing those energy systems cleaned up, before spending time further tidying up advanced economies who can afford to import clean hydrogen?
  • Safety, of hydrogen as well as derivatives like ammonia and methanol, is key
    • Compared to existing fuels, like diesel: ammonia is more toxic, methanol is more flammable and hydrogen is more explosive.
      • Those using it will need training to do so, that will take time and effort. Given the broad range of use cases proposed, this could mean workforces both on the production side, but also in the maritime, air transport, heavy vehicle and industrial sectors
  • Hydrogen is a greenhouse gas
    • Fun fact! In the same way that a lot of effort is being put into fugitive methane, a global hydrogen industry will also need to think about how this is managed (which is hard, because it’s a tricky gas to monitor)
  • “It’s hard”
    • There are a huge number of moving parts and challenges associated with the development of a global, low-carbon, hydrogen sector. Some of the solutions seem easy when you say them quickly, but when you get into the weeds and start thinking about how you train the workforce, or get all the transport ships built, or put multi-laterally-aligned regulations in place, there’s a bit to do.
    • Then there’s the cost.
    • All that said, there is clear agreement that there is a material role for hydrogen as part of global effort to decarbonise. The technology around it is developing rapidly, and there is international effort being expended to develop a viable market around it.

Notable by its absence:

There was very little discussion around community engagement, social licence, and how the benefits from the development of the hydrogen sector are shared and the broader community are brought along for the journey. Yes, there are some big technological, regulatory and financial challenges to overcome, but having strong community support can assist in the development of a viable hydrogen sector. Likewise, botching this piece will cause things to take longer and will likely result in poorer outcomes for the (in many cases, regional) communities that will be hosting the infrastructure required for the production of hydrogen.

1 thought on “World Hydrogen Summit 2024 – Brief Summary Thoughts”

  1. This is a great hydrogen summary Nils and thanks for calling out the absent commentary about community.

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