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Charley Rattan's picture
Global Hydrogen Advisor, Charley Rattan Associates

UK based offshore wind & hydrogen corporate advisor and trainer; Faculty member World Hydrogen Leaders. Delivering global hydrogen and offshore wind corporate investment advice, business...

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  • Nov 13, 2021



How hydrogen became the talk of the town at COP26

Grey, blue, green or turquoise ... whatever the flavour, hydrogen emerged as the Glasgow summit’s great white hope

Walking through the vast COP26 summit in Glasgow, the first impression was always of an unfettered, almost unmanageable, political bazaar.

In the main hall of 80-plus pavilions, a bewildering array of countries, collectives and companies were cheek by jowl, offering coffee and consciousness-raising, pop-ups and propaganda, dealmaking and debate.

Further down the cavernous building, the 197 country delegations had their offices. Bureaucrats could be seen scuttling between them, frantically trying to stitch together a set of summit conclusions. Then there was a battery of meeting rooms, where a seemingly endless series of press conferences and seminars unfolded.

And in the corridors, the world’s cosmopolitan climate elite networked, or sometimes staged Instagram-ready protest moments, as journalists stalked potential interviewees, and a battalion of security guards scouted for trouble.


Protesters inside the Glasgow summit venue. Getty

But amid the clutter, noise, and haste of 40,000 people gathered under one roof, or set of roofs, common themes and ideas eventually began to emerge. From the participants’ perspective, what, actually, was this COP all about?

Sitting in the upstairs room of the Australia pavilion, Ian Learmonth, CEO of the Clean Energy Finance Corp, and Darren Miller, boss of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, agreed that one subject in particular had come up again and again: hydrogen.

“We’ve been talking about hydrogen for decades, but it feels like never has there been so much energy, effort, capital and technological ingenuity put into it,” Learmonth told an Australia-organised panel.

Almost every country’s pavilion ran an event on hydrogen. Many had their hydrogen strategy or plan pinned to the wall. And even when the topic wasn’t hydrogen, somehow it always came up.


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Great white hope

The COP was overshadowed by a growing fear that governments couldn’t or wouldn’t agree to do enough, nor quickly enough, to arrest runaway global warming. From within that anxious pall, hydrogen – whether grey, blue, turquoise or green – emerged as the great white hope.

Although hydrogen is hard to compress and transport, and can be leaky and flammable, the planet-friendly menu of use-cases is compelling. It can act as the storage mechanism for intermittent renewable energy. It can become the fuel for trucks, ships and planes. It can travel down domestic natural gas pipelines and heat people’s homes.

At a trepidatious COP26, the hydrogen revolution felt like a lifebuoy of hope, and everyone was keen to grab hold.

“COP26 has put green hydrogen firmly on the map,” declared Fortescue Metals Group boss Andrew Forrest as he prepared to leave town after a high-profile few weeks touting his new passion.



Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 14, 2021

"From within that anxious pall, hydrogen – whether grey, blue, turquoise or green – emerged as the great white hope."

Charley,  I understand disingenuously marketing gray hydrogen as a clean fuel may be profitable, but it's even worse for CO2 emissions than methane. Could it have been hype about hydrogen that was causing the anxious pall?

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 15, 2021

“We’ve been talking about hydrogen for decades, but it feels like never has there been so much energy, effort, capital and technological ingenuity put into it,” Learmonth told an Australia-organised panel.

The pessimist in me wonders if the attraction to hydrogen at a conference like this is that there's still an expected runway before hydrogen is fully engaged, so it doesn't really require short-term accountability, whereas if a representative said the key was energy efficiency or transmissions as the big takeaway then the expectation would be that they should be implementing wide-scale solutions using today's technology immediately after COP26. Hopefully it's not a COP out (sorry, can't help the pun) and they truly do show short-term commitment in the form of researching, funding, and pilot projects rather than use hydrogen as a buzzword to kick the can down the road. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 15, 2021

Matt, the development timeline is significant. What's worrisome is that enthusiasm for building a vast hydrogen infrastructure exceeds that for investing in green hydrogen research.

"Why don't we see whether green hydrogen is remotely practical before investing $billions in infrastructure that only extends reliance on natural gas?", is a question that will silence its most ardent proponents.

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Thank Charley for the Post!
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