Green Hydrogen as a Game Changer in the Socio-Economic System

Nienke Homan
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“We have the responsibility to add social conditions to green hydrogen trade”

It is abundantly clear that in order to meet the climate goals, we need to switch globally to a totally different energy system. Green hydrogen is the missing link in that energy system. This is because of the many advantages of hydrogen over electricity. For example, hydrogen is an energy carrier and feedstock that enables heavy industry and mobility to become more sustainable. It also makes it possible to transport renewable electricity over long distances.

As a game changer in the energy system, hydrogen has me as a fan. Without hydrogen, we’re not going to accomplish the climate goals. With our ever increasing energy (over) consumption, as rich western countries we cannot produce the required renewable energy in our own environment. At least not as fast as we need it, and not according to the laws and regulations concerning the protection of our environment. This is not surprising, because that was not the case before: for decades we have been getting oil and gas from other countries than where it is used and transported it all over the world.

Hence, we will likely do the same with hydrogen. IRENA’s new report “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation, The Hydrogen Factor” provides a nice overview of current bilateral trade agreements and MOUs. The report highlights new dependencies between countries and the geopolitical implications. And these are not trivial. For example, Europe intends to import 40 GW of green hydrogen by 2030, but a number of preconditions for sustainability are missing. If we are not careful, hydrogen will only bring wealth, prosperity and green growth where it is imported and used, not where it is produced. Let’s learn from the past and not make the same mistake as with oil and gas.

In a technique oriented world with ditto covenants, the power-balance problem is observed and recognized, but the solutions are ignored. However, there are opportunities to tackle this, such as green growth agreements between the producing country and the importing country.

At the very least, bilateral agreements on green hydrogen trade should contribute to green growth, as well as sustainable development on both sides of the agreement. As such, green hydrogen is not only a game changer in the energy system but also in the socio-economic system. As President of the EU Commission Von der Leyen noted in her hydrogen speech early December 2021 “…It could bring clean energy to Europe, and sustainable development to the African continent….” Our focus should be putting this idea into practice.

We are working on that.

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