The time is right to tap into hydrogen’s potential to play a key role in a clean, secure and affordable energy future. At the request of the government of Japan under its G20 presidency, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has produced this landmark report to analyze the current state of play for hydrogen and to offer guidance on its future development. The report finds that clean hydrogen is currently enjoying unprecedented political and business momentum, with the number of policies and projects around the world expanding rapidly. It concludes that now is the time to scale up technologies and bring down costs to allow hydrogen to become widely used. The pragmatic and actionable recommendations to governments and industry that are provided will make it possible to take full advantage of this increasing momentum.
Hydrogen can help tackle various critical energy challenges. It offers ways to de-carbonize a range of sectors – including long-haul transport, chemicals, and iron and steel – where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce emissions. It can also help improve air quality and strengthen energy security. Despite very ambitious international climate goals, global energy-related CO2 emissions reached an all time high in 2018. Outdoor air pollution also remains a pressing problem, with around 3 million people dying prematurely each year.
Hydrogen is versatile. Technologies already available today enable hydrogen to produce, store, move and use energy in different ways. A wide variety of fuels are able to produce hydrogen, including renewables, nuclear, natural gas, coal and oil. It can be transported as a gas by pipelines or in liquid form by ships, much like liquefied natural gas (LNG). It can be transformed into electricity and methane to power homes and feed industry, and into fuels for cars, trucks, ships and planes.
Hydrogen can enable renewables to provide an even greater contribution. It has the potential to help with variable output from renewables, like solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind, whose availability is not always well matched with demand. Hydrogen is one of the leading options for storing energy from renewables and looks promising to be a lowest-cost option for storing electricity over days, weeks or even months. Hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels can transport energy from renewables over long distances – from regions with abundant solar and wind resources, such as Australia or Latin America, to energy-hungry cities thousands of kilometres away.
There have been false starts for hydrogen in the past; this time could be different. The recent successes of solar PV, wind, batteries and electric vehicles have shown that policy and technology innovation have the power to build global clean energy industries. With a global energy sector in flux, the versatility of hydrogen is attracting stronger interest from a diverse group of governments and companies. Support is coming from governments that both import and export energy as well as renewable electricity suppliers, industrial gas producers, electricity and gas utilities, automakers, oil and gas companies, major engineering firms, and cities. Investments in hydrogen can help foster new technological and industrial development in economies around the world, creating skilled jobs.
Hydrogen can be used much more widely. Today, hydrogen is used mostly in oil refining and for the production of fertilizers. For it to make a significant contribution to clean energy transitions, it also needs to be adopted in sectors where it is almost completely absent at the moment, such as transport, buildings and power generation.