Last Wednesday, the keynote speaker at the opening of the World Hydrogen Congress in Rotterdam told hundreds of attendees that, “hydrogen is starting to look like an economic bubble.”
Five days later, on Monday, Nova Scotia Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton gushed in a press release that, “Green hydrogen is a clean-burning fuel that can help with our transition to green, renewable energy in circumstances where fossil fuels cannot easily be replaced.”
Rushton’s press release came as the Progressive Conservative government of Tim Houston introduced amendments to several pieces of legislation to “pave the way for the production and use of green hydrogen as a clean energy source in Nova Scotia.”
According to Rushton, “By updating and clarifying our legislation, we are positioning Nova Scotia as a leader in green hydrogen production and outlining a clear regulatory path for businesses.”
The press release continues:
Existing energy-related legislation has regulatory gaps which could impede the safe development of hydrogen projects. Minister Rushton tabled two bills that will close those gaps, provide flexibility to develop this rapidly growing industry, and support the use of green hydrogen as part of Nova Scotia’s clean energy transition.
A bill to amend the Electricity Act “will give the government the ability to create a new hydrogen innovation program to support the industry and ensure it is aligned with provincial climate goals.”
The press release states that “there are currently at least six active green hydrogen projects in Nova Scotia” and they “include four large export projects to deliver low-carbon energy to markets in Europe and two smaller projects for domestic use.”
A hydrogen rush?
The Halifax Examiner asked Natural Resources and Renewables (NRR) spokesperson Patricia Jreige for information on those projects. Her reply:
Hydrogen projects in the province are at varying levels of planning. To our knowledge, four hydrogen developers are interested in export projects (Bear Head, Fortescue, Northland, and EverWind) and two are interested in domestic production and use (Eastward Energy and Port Hawkesbury Paper).
The Examiner, together with The Energy Mix, has reported in depth on the EverWind Fuels’ “green hydrogen and ammonia” project proposed for Point Tupper in Cape Breton.
The Examiner has sent inquiries to the other three hydrogen developers that NRR says is interested in hydrogen export projects, requesting details of how much energy they will need for their hydrogen projects, where exactly it will come from, and for time frames.
This includes Australia-based Fortescue Metals Group, whose founder and largest shareholder Andrew Forrest is reported to be Australia’s second richest man with a fortune of US$ 16.9 billion, Toronto-headquartered Northland Power, and also Bear Head Energy.
The Bear Head Liquefied Natural Gas site in Point Tupper was acquired earlier this year by Buckeye Partners, a “wholly owned investment of the IFM Global Infrastructure Fund, an Australian private equity firm. Buckeye Partners offices are in Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York, and it describes itself as “one of the largest independent liquid petroleum products pipeline operators in the United States.”
When / if answers are received, we will report on those.
Is this wave of unbridled enthusiasm for “green hydrogen” and ammonia production in Nova Scotia by billionaires far and near (even Nova Scotia’s John Risley has hitched himself to the hydrogen bandwagon) and moneyed investment types, not to mention among members of Premier Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservative government and even Houston himself, warranted?
Or are all these high hopes built on hydrogen hype?
Reporting for Hydrogen Insight on Liebreich’s speech to hundreds of hydrogen professionals, Leigh Collins quotes him saying he’s lived through five economic bubbles in his professional career, and he was “afraid to say” he was starting to recognize the pattern.
Writes Collins of his speech:
He [Liebreich] then read out recent “hyperbolic” quotes from both German Chancellor Olaf Scholz — who said that hydrogen will create a “huge boom” and replace the natural gas used today for industry, heating and fuels — and UK energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, who described H2 [hydrogen] as a “silver bullet” that can use excess wind power to produce green hydrogen that will heat Britain’s homes.
The view that hydrogen is a silver bullet or a Swiss Army knife capable of decarbonising everything from heating to transport to heavy industry and power generation is “dangerous,” Liebreich said. “This leads us into bubbles.”
Liebreich also said there was room for only limited use of hydrogen in a net-zero world, partly because of the vast amount of renewable energy that would be required for green hydrogen to decarbonize some sectors, and noted that hydrogen directly competes with electric options that would be cheaper and simpler.
Collins quoted extensively from Liebreich’s keynote speech:
“You can cut your hair with a Swiss Army knife and you can prune your trees with a Swiss Army knife, and you can replace a tyre on your great Dutch bicycle with a Swiss Army knife, but you don’t. And the reason you don’t is because there’s always something cheaper, safer and easier to use,” Liebreich told the audience.
“Just because you can do something with the hydrogen Swiss Army knife, it doesn’t mean you will. Because you’re in competition, not just with diesel, petrol, coal, gas — you’re also in competition with other clean technologies.
As for all the hype about hydrogen’s role in combating climate change, Liebreich – whom Collins describes as an “independent analyst, advisor and investor” — countered by telling the World Hydrogen Congress that 94 million tonnes of the “bad stuff,” the decidedly-non-green “grey and black” hydrogen, are produced every year from natural gas and coal. And that, he said, produces 830 million tonnes of carbon emissions, a figure that is still rising.
“Before we position hydrogen as the solution to climate change, we first have to deal with hydrogen as a problem in climate change,” he explained.
Just replacing this dirty hydrogen — used mainly in chemicals production and oil refining — with green H2 made from renewable energy would require 143% of all the wind and solar installed globally to date, Liebreich said.
As the Examiner reported on EverWind Fuels’ proposed “green hydrogen and ammonia” project in Point Tupper, it is still not clear where all the energy will come from to produce the hydrogen and ammonia planned when the project is slated to start in 2025, and where all the wind energy will come from for the very large amounts to be produced in phase two, starting in 2026.
Nor is it clear how green hydrogen and ammonia for export can help Nova Scotia reach its climate goals and transition off fossil fuels.
As Jennifer Henderson reports, Nova Scotia Power missed its mandated cap on greenhouse gas emissions for 2019-2022.
And even by 2030, when it is to have eliminated coal from its energy mix, Nova Scotia Power still only expects 80% of its electricity supply to come from renewables.
Last month, the Nova Scotia government announced it had “set a target to offer leases for five gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 to support its budding green hydrogen industry.”
However, it remains to be seen how such offshore wind might be developed in coming years given the competition for and shortage of offshore wind installation vessels.
It also remains to be seen how all the “green hydrogen” projects being planned for Nova Scotia will find the clean renewable energy needed for hydrogen and ammonia production, given the urgent need for wind and solar energy for Nova Scotians’ own use.