There are 680 large hydrogen projects in development worldwide worth a total of $240bn, the Hydrogen Council has said. If the technology is to play a major role in helping the world reach zero, there must be $700bn invested by 2030.
However, only $22bn of these projects have reached a final investment decision, and there is an onus on professionals to remove barriers to development.
We discussed some of these obstacles at the first meeting of our Leadership Council last month, with a focus on power prices, pipelines and price transparency. But there is another set of obstacles that is often missing from the industry discussion about green hydrogen: emotional barriers. In other words, how can the industry get people to feel positive about hydrogen?
Public acceptance is vital if the sector is to make headway in getting hydrogen production projects into communities; and hydrogen into people’s homes, businesses and vehicles. But currently, people know little about the sector.
This topic can be ignored as companies focus on the technical, financial and political barriers to development, but building public acceptance now is crucial. This will help to boost support for power-to-X projects near where people live and work, as well as influence their consumer choices to embrace projects that use green hydrogen. This campaign must start now.
This is not just our view. It was also the theme of a talk by Marianna Rossi, research associate at IZES gGmbH, at European Sustainability Week in September.
Rossi shared research about a growing body of evidence about how the public sees hydrogen as an energy source. She said people tend to have a positive or neutral view of hydrogen as an energy source. This is good in one way as it shows there are no engrained views about hydrogen being too risky or expensive.
However, she identified challenges for the sector including low awareness of any of the benefits of hydrogen; a lack of experience with hydrogen-based technology; and a lack of understanding about perceived risks and costs. Professionals in this industry need to make the case for their projects before vocal opponents, either in local communities or rival industries, start pushing their own agenda.
It is also vital to do this while the sector is in its infancy, rather than waiting until people see local hydrogen projects and oppose them due to fear of the unknown.
The industry can take steps to fill information gaps with coordinated campaigns; offer hands-on experience with hydrogen-based technologies; and be willing to share data that debunks concerns about the costs and risks of the technology. There is a tough balance to strike here about being open to debate while also not giving arguments to empower those who object to hydrogen projects. These battles could be fierce.
This can also support developers with the community consultation that is vital to securing consent for projects, as developers shared at our inaugural Leadership Council meeting. Informing people up-front can protect developers from judicial reviews later on.
In short, this industry has to start building trust with local people now to help ease the development process later – and take projects to the financial investment decisions that are so desperately needed.