Green hydrogen is set to play a substantive role in the overall energy mix, with its development likely to happen faster than anyone predicts, according to a new report by Wood Mackenzie.
The report, 2050: The Hydrogen Possibility, details how the project pipeline has grown ninefold since October 2019 to a staggering 26 gigawatts. National hydrogen strategies have set targets totaling 66 gigawatts of electrolyzer capacity, suggesting there is plenty more growth to come.
Last month, electrolyzer manufacturer Nel set a target of $1.5 per kilogram by 2025, a price level that would beat the traditional fossil-fuel-based options. The current price is closer to $4/kg.
Predictions on when green hydrogen might be competitive with existing high-carbon production methods keep accelerating.
“This is going move faster than anyone forecasts, even us. But that's just the nature of this, because this is so dynamic,” Ben Gallagher, senior analyst at Wood Mackenzie and author of the report, said in an interview.
The EU is targeting 40 GW of electrolyzer deployment by 2030. France is eyeing 6.5 GW, and both the U.K. and Germany have set their own 5 GW goals.
At the same time, major utilities like RWE and Iberdrola have joined oil majors Shell, BP and Total in developing substantial early-stage green hydrogen projects.
“The European Commission’s hydrogen strategy didn’t exist a year ago. The German strategy didn’t exist a year ago, or the Netherlands’, Spain [or] Portugal. […] China didn’t have a 2060 net-zero goal,” said Gallagher. The shift in U.S. leadership, with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris pledging aggressive action on decarbonizing the world's largest economy, will contribute too, he said.
“The trajectory of the green hydrogen market will be determined by the amount of policy support its early years and the amount of corporate commitments that are made to invest in this technology. And both of those things are moving much faster than expected,” Gallagher said.
Future demand and the shape of the market remain unclear
So far most major projects are in the early phases of development. They have enough detail laid out to allow them to bid for an allocation of public funding, but very few have specific offtakers ready to sign on the dotted line. Beyond those looking to directly swap gray hydrogen for green, most projects tout transport offtake that has not yet emerged or industrial offtakers that have not committed to investing in the conversion.
If the only sizable demand comes from projects swapping gray for green hydrogen, then the current policies and swelling project pipelines will lead to oversupply, said Gallagher. Essentially, if existing hydrogen production was fully decarbonized, demand would fall short of the 66 GW of electrolyzer capacity mapped out in existing policies.
With heat, shipping and aviation demand all further out of reach, Wood Mackenzie expects 80 percent of low-carbon hydrogen deployed this decade to replace existing fossil-fuel-derived hydrogen.
Gallagher said that the funding support for the sector is sufficient to see deployments drive down costs, just as wind, solar and lithium-ion have done previously.
“It's a question of if these sectors that have not consumed [hydrogen] before will be able to accept low-carbon hydrogen,” he said. “That's the real question.”
An executive summary of 2050: The Hydrogen Possibility report is available here.