There’s a growing body of evidence which suggests that hydrogen could be a solution to our energy needs in the future, with many countries trying to position themselves as producers and exporters, but there are also some important caveats.
For example, despite Toyota’s huge investment, using hydrogen to fuel cars or other light vehicles makes no sense, given the potential of batteries; at best, it could be used for heavy transport such as aircraft and trains.
Then there’s the question of how we create hydrogen: no matter what the oil companies and their lobbies say, the only hydrogen that makes sense is green hydrogen produced from renewable facilities, because its alternative, so-called “blue hydrogen” which is essentially refined from oil, is more polluting than coal.
In other words, the oil companies have no future as hydrogen producers. But this doesn’t mean that countries like the United States, India or Saudi Arabia, which have plenty of land they can use for huge solar farms, are still vying for an important place in hydrogen production from the surplus generated by renewable energy installations, which will undoubtedly play an important role in the future energy map and in a trillion-dollar economy that will replace oil.
There is another question when it comes to understanding the future energy map: it turns out that because of its lower energy density, it makes no sense to transport hydrogen by ship, and will have to be moved by pipeline if it is to make economic sense.
These issues are still evolving: as hydrogen becomes the world’s predominant energy source, we will see new ways to obtain it, to store it or to transport it that will provide greater flexibility. Meanwhile, countries like the UK and Singapore are planning to lay very long transoceanic cables to transport electricity obtained in other countries directly, bypassing hydrogen, which would make the use of hydrogen partially redundant.
If one thing is clear, it is that the future depends on generating electricity from renewable sources — the cheapest way to produce it — in those parts of the world best suited for doing so, which can then be transported partly by cables and partly by hydrogen, which will also be used as an energy store to compensate for the intermittency of renewable generation, and as a source of energy in heavy transport such as aircraft, large ships or railroads. This is how the biggest energy transition in the history of mankind will take place, because it’s the only way to produce energy without burning hydrocarbons and thus solve the most important problem we face. How countries position themselves with respect to this will provide vital clues as to what the future energy map will look like.
This post was previously published on Enrique Dans’ blog.
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