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Despite its inefficiencies and potential environmental risks, governments and corporate lobbyists are promoting hydrogen as a clean energy solution. Major fossil fuel and polluting industry players use hydrogen to lock in their assets and delay climate action. Germany and the EU, influenced by these lobbyists, are setting ambitious green hydrogen targets. Targets that seem unattainable, while 99% of global hydrogen production remains “grey” hydrogen derived from fossil fuels. Green hydrogen economies face challenges in energy inefficiency, and land and water requirements.

Hydrogen’s inefficiencies and environmental risks

Governments and industry leaders have touted hydrogen as a clean energy solution, but it comes with significant inefficiencies and potential environmental risks. Green hydrogen production, which relies on renewable energy sources, only produced 0.04 million tonnes in 2021. Furthermore, a chemical reaction in the lower atmosphere could jeopardize hydrogen fuel’s clean image if leakage rates are not controlled, leading to an accumulation of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

It is also essential to consider that hydrogen fuel is less energy-efficient than other alternatives, such as electric vehicles. These inefficiencies highlight the need for a more cautious and informed approach toward hydrogen as a clean energy solution.

Hydrogen’s role in hard-to-abate sectors

Despite these challenges, hydrogen could still play a vital role in hard-to-abate sectors such as steelmaking and aviation. However, when it comes to warming homes, powering vehicles, and storing energy, the economic viability of hydrogen as a primary energy solution is limited. Critics argue that green hydrogen should focus on these niche applications, while wind, solar, and storage should handle most of the clean energy transformation.

For instance, Australia’s green hydrogen superpower dream has been criticized as a potential massive waste of money due to the inefficiencies and limited applications of hydrogen as an energy source. Instead, experts suggest that Australia should focus on becoming a world leader in electrifying primary production using renewable energy resources.

Hydrogen colonialism and human rights abuses

Germany has established hydrogen alliances with 26 potential export countries, many of them in the Global South. This has led to “hydrogen colonialism” and human rights abuses in countries like Chile, where the Haru Oni project produces hydrogen-based e-fuel. E-fuels won’t help a bit in the climate crisis, with 16% energy efficiency compared to 72% in electric vehicles. It is the export of valuable energy from poor to rich countries, continuing the trend of the last 150 years.

The National Green Hydrogen Mission in India has been criticized for its lack of public debate and critical evaluation, with subsidies offered for hydrogen hubs without aligning with climate policy and social justice goals.

Lessons from the past: the perpetual promise of hydrogen

Hydrogen’s popularity as a clean energy solution has been a perpetual promise dating back to 1997. Despite investments in fuel cell technology and hydrogen infrastructure, the transition to a hydrogen economy has been slow, and public support remains weak. The lack of an established hydrogen industry or public constituency for change further impedes progress.

With the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning that we are running out of time for climate action, it is crucial to reevaluate the prominence of hydrogen in clean energy strategies. Governments must not be swayed by the lobbying efforts of industries that have contributed to the current climate and energy crisis. Instead, they should focus on proven clean energy technologies that can deliver immediate and tangible results.

Governments must not be swayed by the lobbying efforts of industries that have contributed to the current climate and energy crisis.

Conclusion: a need for a pragmatic approach to hydrogen

As the global community strives to reduce carbon emissions and transition to a sustainable energy future, hydrogen may have a role in specific sectors. However, it is crucial to adopt a pragmatic approach that considers hydrogen’s inefficiencies, environmental risks, and the potential for vested interests to manipulate the conversation around this energy source.

Instead of blindly subsidising hydrogen, governments should focus their efforts and resources on proven clean energy solutions such as wind and solar, with battery storage. Only by adopting a balanced and informed approach can we truly achieve a sustainable and clean energy future.