Diana Raine: New Zealand can learn from Europe’s hydrogen experiment
Twenty years ago, Europe took a punt on hydrogen and it paid off. If New Zealand learns from its lessons, the rewards could be even more significant.
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Diana Raine believes the hydrogen industry is “on the cusp of something really significant”.
Raine has spent the last 20 years working in the hydrogen space, and is now an independent hydrogen consultant with clients ranging from small startups through to global multinationals.
She says Europe was a trailblazer developing hydrogen technology, and is now reaping the benefits of this early investment.
Lessons from European hydrogen projects
“I’ve been in the hydrogen space for a long time and, going back 10 or 20 years, Europe was very much at the forefront of hydrogen technology,” says Diana.
“This stage was really about proving the technology, demonstrating capability, building supply chains and knowledge, and bringing companies together to address barriers in the marketplace.
“Fast forward to where we are now and Europe is really beginning to embrace the potential of hydrogen. More and more countries are publishing hydrogen strategies. There is a big realisation that we need hydrogen as part of our solution to the climate problem.
“Europe now has these strategies in place, and is looking at policy mechanisms to action them. At the moment, it’s about bridging that gap between demonstrating technology in commercial environments, and looking at ways to de-risk investments to make hydrogen an attractive mainstream proposition.
“Europe is reaping the benefits of the efforts it put in years ago. The early demonstration projects not only provided the platform to prove technology, but also identified technical and cost challenges and set the framework for cost reduction and technology scale-up that is widely recognised as needed today.
"Hydrogen is critical to meeting EU climate goals, and Europe has a strong desire to maintain its leading position in the sector. The recently announced 'Fit for 55 Package', which aims to align key EU policies with the new 55 per cent net-emissions reduction by 2030, is a significant opportunity to put these aspirations into action. New Zealand could take some learnings from this approach,” Raine says.
Blue vs green hydrogen
Raine believes that investments in blue hydrogen projects, rather than moving directly to green hydrogen, could put Europe at a disadvantage.
“There are parts of Europe where the pathway to green hydrogen is through a stepping stone of blue hydrogen. Industry is looking to maximise investments that are already in the ground whilst still progressing on carbon reduction commitments. So instead of making new investments into a green pathway, they’re looking at implementing technology to capture CO2, rather than to not emit it in the first place.
“I think the approach of going straight to green hydrogen in New Zealand is an admirable one, and in many ways it’s the right thing to.
“From my perspective, capturing CO2 rather than simply emitting it as we have been is a good thing. But I wouldn’t want blue hydrogen to become the end game, and in parts of Europe there’s a danger of that happening,” Raine says.
The renewable advantage
Raine says New Zealand’s existing renewable energy supply “is a real differentiator in the global hydrogen industry”.
“You have an existing and robust renewable energy supply which in green hydrogen, can facilitate the development of an export market for New Zealand’s renewables as well as supporting ambitions for domestic decarbonisation,” Raine says.
Another benefit of green hydrogen that Raine highlights for New Zealand is that it provides the demand response needed in case of “dry years”. These are years when hydro-power catchments don’t receive adequate inflows, lakes run low and hydroelectric stations can’t generate enough power to meet demand. In these years, we rely on fossil fuels to make up the generation shortfall, but hydrogen production is easily scaled up or down to allow electricity to flow into the grid when needed.
The end of fossil fuels?
When asked if she thinks green hydrogen will completely replace fossil fuels, Raine says it’s definitely possible.
“A lot of things have changed in recent years that give me great hope for hydrogen. Big corporations are now standing up and taking responsibility for the CO2 that they produce in their processes, their products, and where their products are used. I think shareholder pressure is coming to bear and driving industries to address their CO2 issues.
“I finally feel we are on the cusp of something really quite significant in the sector. It's a really exciting time to be involved,” says Diana.
“The thing that’s most exciting about hydrogen is the ability to connect different sectors of the economy and industry to ultimately reach decarbonisation goals. Because hydrogen is a very flexible vector for clean energy, it has the potential to reach into sectors that are much harder to decarbonise, like trucking or shipping. This means the benefits it can bring to society are profound and far reaching,” Raine says.