The International Energy Agency (IEA) claims only one-quarter of the $1.2 trillion of investment needed in clean hydrogen this decade for the world to reach net zero emissions by mid-century has actually been put forward.

In a report published this week, it said countries with hydrogen strategies have so far committed at least $37 billion to the development and deployment of hydrogen technologies, while the private sector has announced investments totalling about $300 billion.

However, the agency said $1.2 trillion worth of investment is needed by 2030 to remain consistent with its pathway to net zero emissions by 2050.

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Additional investment and more focused policies are needed to close the price gap between low-carbon hydrogen and emissions-intensive hydrogen produced from fossil fuels.

The report said $90 billion of public money needs to be channelled into clean energy innovation globally “as quickly as possible”, while recommending roughly half of that funding go towards hydrogen-related technologies.

The IEA did acknowledge that government hydrogen strategies have been growing rapidly in recent years.

In 2019, only France, Japan and South Korea had strategies. Today, the IEA said, 17 governments have released hydrogen strategies, while more than 20 others have announced they are developing strategies.

“We have experienced false starts before with hydrogen, so we can’t take success for granted. But this time, we are seeing exciting progress in making hydrogen cleaner, more affordable and more available for use across different sectors of the economy,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said.

“Governments need to take rapid actions to lower the barriers that are holding low-carbon hydrogen back from faster growth, which will be important if the world is to have a chance of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.”

Analyst opinion on future hydrogen demand varies greatly. Some experts predict it will fall from current levels of roughly 70 million tonnes per annum, while others predict a huge surge.

The IEA is one of those banking on a surge in demand, forecasting it to top 520 million tpa by 2050 under its road map to net zero emissions released this year, which also called for an immediate halt to new fossil fuel developments.

In this week's global hydrogen review, the IEA predicted that low-carbon hydrogen production could reach 17 million tpa by 2030, assuming all of the announced developments are realised.

The 350 green hydrogen projects under development would boost global electrolyser capacity to about 54 gigawatts by 2030.

An additional 40 projects in early development could account for 35GW of extra electrolyser capacity.

Green vs Blue

Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas feedstocks, with the carbon dioxide by-product from hydrogen production captured and stored. However, the process is not emissions free.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysis powered by renewable energy to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, creating an emissions-free fuel.

However, even if all of these developments are realised by 2030, the IEA said the nearly 90GW of electrolysis capacity would account for only 8 million tpa of global hydrogen supply.

If the 50 blue hydrogen developments being proposed go into operation by 2030, combined with the 16 projects now in operation, blue hydrogen production is expected to hit only 9 million tpa by 2030.

Even with 17 million tpa of combined blue and green hydrogen production by 2030, the IEA said this would be one-eighth of the low-carbon hydrogen needed to maintain a trajectory towards net zero emissions by 2050.

Under its net zero pathway, the IEA said global electrolysis capacity for green hydrogen will need to reach 850GW by 2030 —nine times the current project pipeline — and 3.6 terawatts by 2050.

Meanwhile, CO2 captured in the production of blue hydrogen will need to increase from the 135 million tpa capacity planned or existing today to 680 million tpa by 2030 and 1.8 billion tpa by 2050.

The IEA called on governments to move faster on a range of measures to enable low-carbon hydrogen to fulfil its potential, noting that it is not currently cost competitive.

The agency estimated the cost of blue hydrogen production at between $1 and $2 per kilogram, while placing green hydrogen at $3 to $8 per kilogram.

The cost of grey hydrogen produced from unabated fossil fuels it assesses at between $0.50 and $1.70 per kilogram.

However, it believes green could compete with blue by the end of the decade, forecasting a range of $1.30 to $3.50 per kilogram by 2030.

In the longer term, green could drop as low as $1 per kilogram, making it competitive with even grey in some regions.

To reach that figure, the IEA said renewable electricity prices will need to be below $20 per megawatt hour, which would allow for additional capital and operational expenditure.

It also noted that electrolyser costs will decline as deployment ramps up, forecasting a 60% fall, based on current planned capacity.

Under its net zero target, costs could fall by more than 70% to $400 to $440 per kilowatt hour, compared with $1000 to $1750 per KWh now.