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Rush to green hydrogen may be counterproductive – BP

An equal amount of blue hydrogen would be preferable to diverting excessive amounts of renewable energy from grids while fossil fuels remain in the energy generation mix

The lowest level of overall emissions in 2050 would be achieved by using roughly equal amounts of natural gas-based blue hydrogen and renewable energy-based green hydrogen, according to the BP Energy Outlook, launched today.

The annual report—now expanded to 2050 in light of the UK major’s 2050 net-zero commitment—examined three scenarios. Hydrogen usage increases significantly in the latter half of this period in its ‘rapid’ and ‘net-zero’ scenarios, although not in ‘business as usual’.

By 2050, hydrogen accounts around 6pc of total final energy consumption in the rapid scenario and over 15pc in net-zero.

Over 15pc – Hydrogen’s share of energy mix in 2050 net-zero scenario

The production of hydrogen in both scenarios is dominated by green, assumed to be made by electrolysis of water using renewable power, and blue, extracted mainly from natural gas combined with carbon capture utilisation and storage. “By 2050, there are broadly equal amounts of blue and green hydrogen in both scenarios,” says BP group chief economist Spencer Dale at the launch of Energy Outlook.

“Importantly, the production of blue hydrogen helps overall global supplies of hydrogen to grow relatively quickly without relying too heavily on renewable energy.”

Under all three scenarios, BP predicts a sharp acceleration in wind and solar capacity. “Relying exclusively on green hydrogen would require an even faster expansion in wind and solar capacity” than that imagined in the net-zero case, says Dale.

In this “extreme case”, in which all hydrogen is produced using renewables, “to achieve the same production of hydrogen as in net-zero would require even faster growth of wind and solar capacity”, says Dale; this growth would be at a level that would be counterproductive.

“Relying too heavily on green hydrogen could constrain the pace at which the hydrogen economy can grow.”

In addition, the production of green hydrogen would divert renewable energy that could otherwise be used to decarbonise electricity grids.

“This is important, given that the vast majority of domestic power sectors are not fully decarbonised” over the next 20 years, he says.

Hydrogen can complement electrification by providing energy to activities that are difficult or costly to electrify, including high temperature industrial processes and long-distance transportation such as heavy-duty trucks.

Dale says there is also an increasing role for bioenergy in the two scenarios, 7pc of primary energy in rapid and 10pc in net-zero.

This includes biofuels for long-distance transportation “doubling or more” and biomethane increasingly substituting natural gas at a level of 6pc of consumption in rapid and 10pc in net-zero. Biomass would also be used “predominately in the power sector”.

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