Hydrogen's Scalability Essential To Meet Energy Demand

The world must invest in an all-of-the-above method to meet our energy needs with reduced environmental impact.

Robert Hebner, via RealClear Wire


A few years ago, I was at a University of Hong Kong lecture where a leader of China’s energy program spoke. I was surprised by the amount of resources and time invested in each energy technology, and how committed they were to scaling up solutions that had a reduced impact on the environment.

The world needs to invest in a method that meets all of our energy requirements while reducing the environmental impact.

The global demand for energy will increase by

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Due to the growing population, over half of people today do not have enough energy. This leads to poverty and early deaths.

At the moment, the only energy source that can meet the demand is fossil fuel derived.

Even if geopolitical issues surrounding fossil fuels could be magically removed, the conversion of solar energy to fossil fuels by nature includes carbon. Carbon emissions are changing the climate at an alarming rate. This leads to poverty, premature death and a change in energy consumption.

We need to find more and better solutions on a scale large enough to be meaningful.

Hydrogen is appealing because it makes intermittent renewable energy 24/7 available everywhere. The global market for hydrogen is worth more than 150 billion dollars today. There are also major growth prospects in the grid and transportation sectors.

Growing energy demand means more jobs and profits. But

Even in a growing market, there will be winners as well as losers.

All energy is supported by governments today through incentives. The integration of hydrogen in the political system can be complicated. The Department of Energy, for example, has a webpage dedicated to hydrogen.

The goal of this is to increase your understanding.

By the end of this decade, we will have developed the technology to produce hydrogen at $1/kilogram. One kilogram of hydrogen is equivalent to one gallon of gasoline.

The following are some examples of the latest developments in this field:


Due to a tax credit for production, wind-generated electricity that is delivered to the grid can be rewarded.

Hydrogen has a high carbon footprint today, but the technology exists to reduce it. The U.S. has implemented a graduated credit system to encourage the production of cleaner hydrogen regardless of its feedstock.

All of us lose when we turn the perfect into the enemy to the good. We will suffer less or lose fewer people if we move from good to better to best, rather than waiting until the best is easy to achieve.

Our legacy governance hinders the establishment of a market that can benefit from multiple solutions.

We built a system that assumes all components are competing, and not working together to meet the increasing energy demand in a sustainable way.

Our government is responsible for providing the coordination required. We must provide them with the tools and insight they need to perform this job for us all.

Parochial interests are trying to determine which grid feedstocks for hydrogen are clean enough to qualify for the full 45V tax credit. This is the classic "perfect vs.good" situation.

It is easy to certify hydrogen as clean if its feedstock comes exclusively from a dedicated and independent source. Hydrogen produced in Houston, TX using grid power, is nearly as cheap as the carbon-intensive conventional method of hydrogen production.

We can produce cleaner hydrogen very quickly. The grid's carbon footprint is constantly changing, even though it gets cleaner every day. The majority of prudent people would agree that, absent any proof of a greater harm, this approach deserves a competitive tax credit and increased tax credits in the future as hydrogen becomes cleaner.

Wind and solar are now niche suppliers due to decades of tax credits and offsets. Hydrogen, with its massive storage capacity and commercial maturity, could be the technology that provides the tipping-point to meet the increasing demand for fossil fuels.

There is no single solution that can solve the problem.

We need flexibility in energy production, efficiency, and conservation. We will thrive with a portfolio that includes outstanding contributors and not waiting for a superhero in the energy sector.

Robert Hebner, director of the Center for Electromechanics at University of Texas at Austin.