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A Green Route

To succeed with necessary and rapid technology transfer and development, increased global cooperation is needed. No single country can complete the entire value chain for hydrogen and thus there is a need for cooperation among countries to secure markets and make green energy available at the earliest opportunity

J P GUPTA | New Delhi |

This is a moment of a tryst with destiny. Mother Earth, after millions of years of producing fossil fuels, is bidding farewell and shifting to the sun to meet her
energy needs.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe; it could be a key component in the global transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen can play a vital role in utilizing excess production of renewable energy from Solar and Wind to produce Green Hydrogen on-site for storage or as distributed energy.

On the one hand, this will improve financial viability of existing renewable energy assets and on the other, make available green hydrogen at an economic price. Hydrogen has the clear potential to transform our large dependence on fossil-based energy to low carbon and green energy to facilitate the process of decarbonization for our net zero transition.

India is beautifully positioned to take a lead in the global Green H2 economy, due to her position on Renewable Energy. Today, India has 141 GW of installed capacity of RE making it the fourth largest installed capacity globally ~ fourth largest for wind and fifth largest for solar.

India has also set for itself the world’s largest RE expansion plan to achieve 175 GW by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030 in installed capacity. The RE installed capacity  has seen a 226 per cent increase in the last five years. India’s RE sector has already received investments worth $70 billion in the last seven years and delivered capacities present additional business prospects worth $20 billion for the next decade.

To succeed with necessary and rapid technology transfer and development, increased global cooperation is needed. No single country can complete the entire value chain for hydrogen and thus there is a need for cooperation among countries to secure markets and make green energy available at the earliest opportunity.

The ‘International Hydrogen Alliance’ would also help transform a large investment-enabling environment into a global hydrogen ecosystem. Not only would partner countries benefit immensely but would accelerate and fast track global transition to a hydrogen economy worldwide.

In the same manner as the highly successful ‘International Solar Alliance’ proposed and initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015, ahead of COP 21 at Paris, the Indian government pilot the initiation and development of an International Hydrogen Alliance. Such an alliance would bring different countries ~ the key global stakeholders ~ on one platform to facilitate international cooperation to fast-track hydrogen energy transition through aligned policies, shared plans, wider sharing of technical knowledge through technology transfers and collaborations, global capacity building for sharing and balancing demand and supply-side matrix and the most important, creating a large investment environment for creating a structured global hydrogen economy.

It is extremely important that India declare its national mission to develop India-centric cost-effective technologies and knowhow for production, storage and application of Green Hydrogen. This can be achieved through R&D as well as adaptation of developing technologies to Indian conditions Hydrogen knowhow and equipment suppliers are booked for two to three years. India must therefore be self-reliant in Green Hydrogen Production Technologies, treating it on war footing as a National Mission.

On the call of our Prime Minister, Indian-made Covid vaccines were made available in a record time of 12 months. India became self-reliant in nuclear technologies within record time, when sanctions were imposed by the West. We in India are fully capable of achieving the same traction for developing hydrogen production and storage knowhow. The technologies needed for green hydrogen are a bottleneck in unleashing the hydrogen economy.

Globally, technology providers are few and unable to supply the market fast enough. The existing technology needs rapid deployment and in parallel there is a need to develop new technology and stimulate competition between the actors. India’s ambitions to becoming self-reliant in Hydrogen calls for domestic manufacture of efficient and cost-effective electrolysers, development of fuel-cells,  R&D and adaption of compression technologies, whole range of storage solutions, cost-effective safety and handling technologies, on-site production for hydrogen dispensing and of course a range of applications.

The challenges linked to green hydrogen ~ infrastructure needs, design, technological development, workforce, and off take/markets ~ offer both limitations and a potential competitive advantage for India. For example, the infrastructure used for gas distribution is an opportunity more than a limitation if one allows a “smooth transition” ~ hydrogen mixed with natural gas.

Further, many large industrial players have indicated that they have started developing electrolyser technologies and capacities, and also fuel-cells and batteries, enabling India to become self-reliant on essential technologies needed to manage the green shift. Combined with increased investment, government support, engineering advancements and a skilled workforce, India also holds a competitive advantage linked to its IT sector and global position on digitalization.

Artificial intelligence solutions will be vital in enabling the transition to green hydrogen and will play a critical role in the global decarbonisation effort by decreasing capital and operating expenses. India hosts several world-leading R&D institutions that play a vital role in societal developments and transformations.

The complexities linked to a green shift call for a strong cooperation between governmental bodies, industries, and R&D Institutes. It also calls for advanced international cooperation. To facilitate this domestic and international cooperation, it is suggested to set up a number of Centres of Excellences ~ Hydrogen (CoE-H) throughout the country. These centres would be instrumental in creating requisite critical mass for holistic development of a hydrogen economy in the country.

For emerging hydrogen industries and widespread use in society, new knowledge methods and technologies are required to achieve tolerable levels of safety. Compliance with applicable international, national and regional regulations, codes and standards (RCS) will facilitate a better understanding of the safety-related properties of hydrogen. The safety-related properties of hydrogen and the characteristic operating conditions of technical systems for producing, storing transporting and using hydrogen imply that fires and explosions represent a significant hazard for people, installations and the
environment.

These centres can partner with the best foreign R&D centers, and hence also facilitate bilateral cooperation in hydrogen-related fields. The CoE-Hs’ should be based around pilot/ demo hydrogen plants, allowing on-site R&D and technology testing and development. International co-operation would allow the exchange of personnel and capacity building.

The CoE-Hs’ should offer masters and P.hDs in related areas. Training of manpower in production, storage and transportation of hydrogen is a must. A minimum of 100,000 trained and skilled manpower is needed, to be trained through virtual reality and augmented reality. The Centers of Excellence (CoEs) attached to universities should focus on Masters and P.hDs programmes; decentralization of renewable energy production; hydrogen production technologies with respect to scale of production; hydrogen storage systems; hydrogen transport and applications; hydrogen safety in production, storage, transportation and dispensing; IIT and digitalization of RE systems.

There are several obvious reasons, both economically and morally, why it will pay off, in the long run, to have a clear, proactive attitude towards both the development and implementation of Hydrogen Value Chains in India. With this, the country will gain an advantage by becoming less dependent on other countries that have technological expertise, systems and technologies. Producing Green Hydrogen in India can become cost-effective, which will not only guarantee energy security but also gradually ensure self-sufficiency and savings of billions of dollars in oil imports.

(The writer is Chairman, Environment Committee, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He can be reached at [email protected])