The hydrogen we want: green, sustainable and – very soon – competitive, too

The Green Hydrogen Development event that took place in Milan as part of All4Climate offered comparisons between current and future projects and a call to act together to create a zero emissions economy and the green revolution we all want.

Today, when we talk about combatting climate change, we can no longer ignore green hydrogen, which looks to be very promising in decarbonizing certain industrial sectors as well as air and maritime transport in the coming years.

“Decarbonization is now a necessity rather than a choice, for both the public and private sectors alike,” said Enel Green Power CEO Salvatore Bernabei. “Green hydrogen use generates no emissions, which is why it’s considered the only truly sustainable method of hydrogen production, with zero greenhouse emissions.” The aim, as Bernabei explained, is not “to mitigate or capture emissions, but to stop producing them altogether”.  

This theme was the focus of an event organized by Enel Green Power as part of ALL4Climate called Green Hydrogen Development, which featured green hydrogen technology producers that are committed to reducing its costs, as well as institutions, researchers, startups and young people, demonstrating the strong interest in this field. 

Green hydrogen will play a potentially fundamental role in decarbonizing the energy system: “In terms of our outlook at IRENA, hydrogen will fulfil almost 12% of global energy requirements and contribute 10% of the drop in CO2 emissions between now and 2050,” said Francesco La Camera, General Manager of IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency).

The reason is, of course, that “green hydrogen is the perfect complement to electrification in decarbonizing those sectors in which electrification using renewables is not feasible or financially sustainable,” as Paola Brunetto, head of EGP’s Hydrogen Business Unit, explained. “The main challenge at this point is to reduce the cost of green hydrogen. That said, we strongly believe that green hydrogen will be the cheapest option as early as 2030, if businesses and the institutions focus their efforts in that direction.”

EGP’s Head of Innovation Nicola Rossi also spoke about costs: “We’re sure it will happen in the next 10 years. But the real challenge is to accelerate this process. We can work on two fronts in that regard: reducing the cost of electrolyzers and improving efficiency, because greater efficiency means lower operating costs.”

Photovoltaic panels and batteries are proving that this type of rapid drop in costs is possible. With that in mind, Rossi says: “We need to work on three fronts: increasing the scale of manufacturing activities, increasing the size of the modules that make up the electrolyzers, and innovating to introduce new technologies and new materials, as well as to optimize the design of components and their integration. It’s also critical to work on developing the new skills that will be needed to build and operate green hydrogen production facilities.”

The other participants, including representatives from several technology providers and startups selected by Enel to collaborate on a roadmap to reduce costs using an open innovation model, also listed the factors that will help to make green hydrogen fully competitive. These include economies of scale in making the electrolyzers themselves and the cost of carbon dioxide emissions, which impacts polluting technologies but not green hydrogen.

Furthermore, green hydrogen production plants can easily change their power input and thus, as La Camera pointed out, “green hydrogen can provide flexibility to the energy system and facilitate the integration of new renewables”: a twofold benefit for the energy transition to a cleaner system.  

For all of these reasons, green hydrogen is now very much part of the European political agenda, as Bernabei noted, pointing out that the conference’s subtitle was: “One year after the launch of the European Union hydrogen strategy”. Once again, EGP was ahead of the game: “We created the Hydrogen Business Unit in June 2020,” Brunetto explained, before expanding on what we have achieved since then and what we are doing now. In September, work began in Chile on the construction of the first industrial scale green hydrogen plant, which “will allow us to analyze the best available technologies, build up experience, and acquire and improve our knowledge, which we can then export to our projects in other parts of the world.” Aside from Chile, we also have other plants under development in the USA, Spain and Italy, where our labs can also test the various innovative and mature technologies in a real world setting.

Lastly, Evelyn Araripe, co-founder of Youth Climate Leaders, drew attention back to the importance of the energy transition for new generations, because – thanks to their huge potential for job creation – clean energies will be able to provide an answer to the two main fears of that young people have about the future: the climate crisis and the lack of employment.