The swirling hype over hydrogen is at risk of becoming a market bubble, veteran renewable energy analyst Michael Liebreich warned an industry conference in Rotterdam last week.
Citing what he called “hyperbolic” quotes on hydrogen’s potential from the likes of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and climate-denying UK Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, Liebreich said the use of hydrogen in a decarbonizing world will be limited by the physical characteristics of the fuel itself, the massive amount of renewable power required to produce it, and cost pressure from renewable electricity, Hydrogen Insight reports.
“I’ve lived through, I think, five bubbles in my professional career, and I’m afraid to say I start to recognize the pattern,” said Liebreich, founder of BloombergNEF.
Hydrogen’s proponents have been known to call it a silver bullet or a Swiss Army Knife, with some advocates even putting it forward as an improbable option for space heating. But the reality will be different, Liebreich said.
“You can cut your hair with a Swiss Army knife, and you can prune your trees with a Swiss Army knife, and you can replace a tire on your great Dutch bicycle with a Swiss Army knife, but you don’t,” he told participants at the opening session of the World Hydrogen Congress. “And the reason you don’t is because there’s always something cheaper, safer, and easier to use.”
Before turning to hydrogen as a clean fuel, the nascent industry’s first task is to deal with the emissions from the 94 million tonnes per year of “grey” and “black” hydrogen produced from fossil gas and coal, with no attempt at carbon capture in sight.
“Before we position hydrogen as the solution to climate change, we first have to deal with hydrogen as a problem in climate change,” he said. But just replacing those carbon-intensive supplies with renewably-generated green hydrogen “would require 143% of all the wind and solar installed globally to date,” Hydrogen Insights writes, citing the speech.
If Germany’s steel industry replaced the fossil fuels it uses with green hydrogen, “that takes up 60% of current German wind and solar output,” Liebreich told participants. ““If we go to ammonia shipping, it’s 300% of China’s current renewables output. The numbers are staggering.”
Hydrogen Insights has more on Liebreich’s critique here.