Jules Verne was more than just the father of science fiction. He was a visionary of his time and foresaw the development of technologies such as helicopters, submarines and spaceships. But his vision of the future of energy – outlined about 150 years ago – is less well known. As early as 1874, he firmly believed that hydrogen would provide “an inexhaustible source of heat and light”.
Hydrogen’s potential has been known for some time, but so far its economics haven’t been favorable when compared to other energy sources. Now, with the biggest question of our time being the need to meet growing energy demand while making huge reductions in carbon emissions, conditions have changed. It’s not enough to suppose that power generation from renewable energy alone will make the difference. This strategy would still leave the problem unsolved for many growing areas of the economy that currently depend on carbon-emitting fuels, including heavy industry and transportation sectors such as aviation, heavy trucks and shipping.
Andreas Schierenbeck, CEO Uniper SE
Billions for carbon-neutral initiatives
This is the reason why everyone is talking about hydrogen today. Companies are planning to invest significantly and governments are starting to make funds and incentives available. In our case, Uniper is committed to invest 1.2 billion euros exclusively in carbon-neutral initiatives over the coming years. In the fight against the economic consequences of the current pandemic, there is virtually no European reconstruction program that doesn’t reference the development of a sustainable hydrogen economy. This is absolutely correct and our common goal should be to scale up hydrogen production, trading and consumption to make it economically competitive as soon as possible.
Hydrogen is the only fuel that can decarbonize most sectors. It can be produced where conditions are technically and economically favorable, stored in large quantities and transported across continents to be used where necessary. Just as oil was crucial to building a new world economy at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, so too will hydrogen provide the base for a whole new world of jobs, growth and opportunity in the second half of the 21st.
The necessary technology is already available. In fact, if the surplus from renewable energy sources that goes to waste today was used to produce green hydrogen by electrolysis – splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen – we would already be seeing significantly lower carbon emissions.
Europa plays a key role in the global hydrogen economy
We need to build up the global hydrogen economy, and Europe is poised to lead this endeavor. Europe is an advanced society with many leading companies in some of the world’s most important industries such as steel, chemicals and mobility. The companies in these sectors are crying out for technologies that will allow them to decarbonize without compromising on the energy they need to continue to create growth and jobs. Germany in particular has the volume, technical expertise and industrial base to lead this movement and make the hydrogen economy a reality.
German and European companies must become the technology partners, hydrogen purchasers and financial investors to the producing regions. German companies also have a key role to play facilitating the global trade in hydrogen that is a natural byproduct of this new economy. The German National Hydrogen Strategy provides a fantastic framework to accelerate the domestic market.
Germany and Europe are likely to be net importers of hydrogen for many years to come. This is reason enough to establish partnerships with other countries, for example in Africa or the Middle East, right from the start as part of successful development strategies like the European “Green New Deal”. We must develop the necessary infrastructure together and in good time – success will come through staying pragmatic and being open to new technological developments.
This is a moment for Europe and Germany to lead and show the world that a clean energy future can be made a reality – with no compromises. We have a unique opportunity to build a new economy, powered by clean energy, that drives growth and the creation of countless jobs. The conditions are here to make Jules Verne’s vision a reality.