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Green Hydrogen Projects Set to Skyrocket, Though Pandemic Could Slow Investors Down

Interest in “green” hydrogen produced from renewable electricity has been skyrocketing over the last several months, with global interest in electrolyser projects—particularly large ones—tripling between October 2019 and March 2020, according to an updated report released last month by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

The scene is changing so quickly that WoodMac had to reissue its analysis less than a half-year after it first appeared. Initially, the firm “counted 3.2 gigawatts of planned electrolyser capacity, a twelve-fold increase over the cumulative installed capacity at the time,” Greentech Media reports. “As of March 2020, that pipeline had increased to 8.2 gigawatts, or 31 times the cumulative installed capacity today”—if all the projects are ultimately financed and built.

Greentech points to 17 electrolyser megaprojects under development in Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States, each of them rated at 100 megawatts or more. “We are seeing larger and larger projects announced with backing from Fortune 500 companies,” said Ben Gallagher, a WoodMac subject specialist in carbon and emerging technology.

The biggest project on Wood Mackenzie’s radar is the Asian Renewable Energy Hub in Australia’s Pilbara region, to be completed in 2027. It will generate 15 gigawatts of electricity from wind and solar, with 12 GW devoted to producing green hydrogen and one gigawatt of electrolysis capacity. Its backers call it “one of the most exciting energy projects in the world”.

(Greentech Media is owned by Wood Mackenzie, and WoodMac Power & Renewables serves as Greentech’s market analysis and advisory arm.)

Greentech’s coverage includes snapshots of other massive projects, including the 760-MW HyGreen Provence plant to be completed in 2027 in France, the 750-MW Eemshaven facility in the northern Netherlands, and a 310-MW project under consideration in Paraguay that would link a ThyssenKrupp electrolyser to a renewable diesel plant. The various projects and project phases are set to come onstream between 2022 and 2040.

The big changes in Wood Mackenzie’s forecast come in the second half of the 2020s. In October, “WoodMac did not foresee any capacity additions at all after 2025. Now it is predicting more than 4.5 gigawatts of new capacity in the second half of the decade, including almost 1.5 gigawatts where the commissioning date is still unknown,” Greentech writes. While the U.S. will “make important contributions to the green hydrogen race” between 2021 and 2025, net-zero targets over the next decade “will drive electrolyser capacity additions mostly in Europe, which accounts for 59% of all projects listed by Wood Mackenzie from 2020 to 2030.” By 2030, those dynamics will leave the lion’s share of the world’s electrolyser capacity in Australia and France.

The research also points to growing interest in green hydrogen on the part of corporate investors, Greentech says. Last month, two European industrial giants, Siemens Gas and Power and Uniper, unveiled a big, new green hydrogen collaboration. “We are ready to invest and have set the strategic course to significantly accelerate the decarbonization of our portfolio,” Uniper CEO Andreas Schierenbeck said in a release, though that commitment apparently didn’t stop the mammoth fossil company from challenging The Netherlands’ court-mandated greenhouse gas reduction program.

The WoodMac report warns that not all of this new green hydrogen capacity is certain attract financing. “It remains to be seen whether all these projects will ever make it off the drawing board,” Greentech writes, and “the plans listed by Wood Mackenzie all represent pre-coronavirus ambitions.” Gallagher cautioned that “if the economic impact of global lockdown results in a severe recession or depression, then all sectors will be impacted.”

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