In recent years, hydrogen has managed to move out of its niche and onto the political main stage. Not just in Germany and Europe but across the world, the energy sector is bracing itself for change as we move from the fossil fuel age to a renewable era.
While some regions are only slowly preparing themselves for the real energy transition, many countries in central Europe as well as nations like the United States and Japan are right in the thick of it. The introduction of the Inflation Reduction Act saw the US roll out a huge financial package. Such a step has yet to be taken in China. The People’s Republic has long been at the forefront of electric transportation but the political framework for instigating a hydrogen economy remains a work in progress (see p. 48).
Germany, on the other hand, was at the cutting edge when it coined the term “energy transition” many years ago, an expression that now, around the globe, epitomizes this transformation process. And by phasing out coal and nuclear power and cutting back on oil and gas, Germany finds itself in a good position, but we are no longer at the forefront when it comes to tackling the climate crisis.
For a long while, Germany was ahead of the field when it came to the environment – leading on solar and wind technology as well as hydrogen and fuel cells. The hope is for a better result this time when establishing its own hydrogen and fuel cell industry than was the case for photovoltaics.
The German government recently adopted the update to its national hydrogen strategy, thus making clear its support for the course it set three years ago (see p. 14). What’s more, Germany is now getting a steering committee for hydrogen standardization so it can launch a standardization road map for hydrogen technologies (see p. 6).
With so much happening, it will come as no surprise that, in the German-speaking world especially, the word for “hydrogen” (Wasserstoff) has for many months been a popular term in online searches. Interest in hydrogen began to grow at the end of 2018 – well before the market started to ramp up, as research using Google Trends clearly shows (see p. 7). At that point, the number of inquiries using the Google search engine increased considerably, exceeding the 2004 level in early 2019.
Since then, the US corporation has recorded ever-higher numbers of searches for this particular keyword. In early and mid-2020 and early 2021, hydrogen inquiries overtook searches for the German equivalent of “photovoltaic” by a wide margin. Over the years, “hydrogen” almost always outperformed German inquiries for “fuel cell,” “electric mobility” and “digitization” (see cover graphic for German search results with keywords translated into English).
Globally the situation is a little different: Throughout the past two decades, a comparatively high number of Google users have looked up the word “hydrogen” in English – far more frequently than the English words “fuel cell,” “photovoltaic” or any spelling of “digitization.” Only “PV” enjoys a similar popularity to “hydrogen.”
Of course, this kind of trend analysis isn’t rigorously scientific, but it does give a representative indication of the interest level in hydrogen now, and how that compares with the past. Our analyst Sven Jösting, who has been monitoring the stock market performance of hydrogen and fuel cell companies for many years (see p. 47), has for a long time talked about a “megatrend.”
To all the critics who say it’s just another hydrogen hype, I can confidently reply: It is extremely likely that this time we’re looking at a proper hydrogen boom. And we’re right at the start of it.
For it’s only early days as we still don’t have a functioning hydrogen market. Except, that is, if we look at hydrogen as an industrial gas for conventional applications (welding, medicine, etc.). Preparations are underway, however, by H2Global to set up a trading platform that will enable hydrogen to be bought and sold in large quantities in a similar way to how the European Energy Exchange operates.
It’s also true that we don’t yet have a market for electrolyzers or fuel cells. Unless, of course, you count the hitherto low production volumes and capacities. This is essentially negligible in view of the quantities and capacities that we will potentially need. Hopefully we’ll be able to report on the latest sales and installation figures in the February 2024 edition of H2-international.
Even in the mobility sector, sales are still extremely modest, which is why no real acceleration of the market can be assumed before 2025. That said, this will only initially affect the commercial vehicle sector, i.e., hydrogen trucks and buses. In all probability, hydrogen automobiles will only be produced and sold in significant quantities at the end of the decade – if that does indeed happen at all. It will take even longer for rail vehicles, ships and airplanes.
The outlook, however, is clear: As the world shifts increasingly away from fossil resources, so renewable energy becomes ever more important. The upshot is that we need a lot more solar power plants and wind turbines. And hydrogen will be essential in bringing this vast quantity of green power to the different energy sectors.
Admittedly, it’s a pretty basic description of the energy transition. Though it does plainly show that hydrogen, far from being just a megatrend, is something that the energy sector simply can’t function without.
Editor of H2-international