Stephen Canny gives two big reasons he’s excited about the prospect of producing green hydrogen in Southland - new skills and jobs for the region, and valuable fuel independence for the country.

A boost for Southland

As General Manager of Strategic Projects for Great South, Canny has been aware of hydrogen’s potential for many years.  He says there’s now growing support for hydrogen production in the region as a clean industry to replace the aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point which RioTinto expects to close at the end of 2024. 

“The reality for Southland is that when Tiwai closes, a large block of energy becomes available.  Using that energy to decarbonise the economy while creating a new one and keeping jobs is a no brainer.

“It's a highly technical industry which will bring and retain superb skills in the South, and also well paying jobs which are desirable for the region,” Canny says.  

Alongside job creation, Canny says building national-level infrastructure to support a hydrogen economy will create significant economic activity over the medium-term, and benefit Kiwi companies developing new intellectual property around hydrogen production.

Great South GM of Strategic Projects, Stephen Canny

Fuel independence

Canny sees significant future risks for New Zealand in fuel distribution unless the country finds an alternative to power its heavy transport and industrial sectors.  

“The reality is that we have declining gas reserves, we have no diesel production or refining capability.  We’re also at the end of the supply chain for fossil fuels, and investment in oil exploration and refining is declining all over the globe.  

“Fuel independence is a rare commodity, so being able to determine our own future with green hydrogen and set our own price for that future would be a wonderful thing,” Canny says. 

Getting there

Canny believes that within five to 10 years, hydrogen powered heavy transport will be commonplace in New Zealand.

“Many heavy transport vehicle manufacturing companies are developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  There are some early movers that already have excellent options available.  There’s billions of dollars being spent in this space in places like Germany, Korea, Japan, the US and Switzerland, they’re well advanced.” 

"Having a resilient and future-proofed transport fuel sector is a powerful motivation to get this done."

Developing New Zealand’s hydrogen economy will require some offshore funding and technical input, but Canny also believes the country will rapidly build domestic capacity and capability.

“That’s normal for a small country embarking on a big technology shift.  The challenge for New Zealand is that we have a short period of time to build the infrastructure for hydrogen, relative to conventional fuels which we built up over the last century.” 

Despite New Zealand’s responsibility to decarbonise at home before helping to decarbonise other economies, Canny says that revenue raised from green hydrogen exports will be critical to building a viable domestic value chain.

“The prospect of using export driven investment to support the domestic network is a compelling argument.  The cost of building our own capability is large, and the export potential creates a vehicle to enable further infrastructural investment here and in the fullness of time export fuel can be diverted back into the domestic market as global production grows.  

“Having a resilient and future-proofed transport fuel sector is a powerful motivation to get this done. I personally think we’ve got a bright future ahead with green hydrogen production,” Canny says. 

Stephen Canny is General Manager, Strategic Projects for Great South, Southland’s regional development agency.