What this jolly damascene narrative misses is two gigantic Real World developments offstage. The first, and biggest, is that all of a sudden, spending on Adaptation & Mitigation - getting ahead of those floods and fires! - was admitted to the ranks of what counts as Green. This means that every clunking old heavy-industry company feels it stands a chance of joining in the upcoming feeding frenzy (steel-and-concrete, yay! - not just those poncey, ex-hippy solar farm wallahs); and of course every bank. That's huge.
The second is that Big Private Energy (if not the NOCs and their like) decided in 2019 that they'd better join the party, too - properly, not just a nibble around the edges of the lettuce-leaf for greewashing purposes as theretofore. Shell is only the latest. And why not? It all plays to their strengths, innit? - R&D; Big Engineering; massive capex; expert project management; dealing with governments etc etc etc. (They are wrong about their strengths in some detailed regards, but let that pass - they'll find out in due course. And the better ones will quickly learn.)
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Let's give one really big, and really important example: the natural gas industry. It's Big. And the capital it has sunk (your pension fund has sunk) in steel-&-concrete, & real-estate, & highly-trained people etc etc) is very, very large. Much of it is rather static, too: gas production facilities, mammoth intercontinental pipelines, processing facilities, liquefaction plant, LNG fleets, re-gas facilities, myriad small distribution pipelines ... and nobody fancies writing that lot off.
Up until 2019, they kinda felt they didn't need to contemplate this awful prospect because they felt they'd been given a multi-decade pass. Hey - the greatest reductions ever made in CO2 emissions come when gas replaces coal! We're the good guys! Watch us repeat the UK trick and the USA trick in, errr, China and India ...
Then they notice that in the west, coal has already given up the ghost (except in Germany) and all eyes are on them as the next big fossil fuel villains: AND not just the know-nothing swampy-greens, but the steely-eyed, utterly ruthless ex-hippies taking all the government money for wind and solar, who've got the gas sector lined up to be supplanted by ELECTRIFICATION. And all that gas capital tied up in steel-&-concrete!
Suddenly (and truly, it was abrupt) the entire industry has lighted upon conversion from natgas to hydrogen. Why? Because -
(a) actually the threat of wholesale electrification isn't imminent: in most countries you just can't switch that amout of space heating from gas to electricity without colossal expenditure (like, in the UK for example, trebling the capacity of the Grid - which is what you'd need) - so, they get a breather if not a free pass, provided they are seen to be With the Program, and knuckling down (which they are):Here's not the place to sketch out the many significant practical (and political) issues a hydrogen-based energy system will face along the way. All I'd say is: there's a combination here of massive incentive and feasible technology. In my experience, that's a recipe for things getting done. Many's the time I've seen first hand, just how far people will go to avoid writing an asset off completely.
(b) they get to utilise a lot of those existing assets that represent so much of their balance sheets (phew!):
(c) it's squarely in their sweet spot: fairly conventional and established technology, pretty basic chemical- and civil-engineering, lots of scope for improvements and efficiencies on existing processes - the kinds of things they can easily find / redeploy staffing and raise money for:
(d) it solves a massive problem for governments (relying on electrification of space heating, trucking and large-scale gas-burning industry wasn't going to get them far towards Net Zero, as they know):
(e) it potentially also solves a problem for the green electricity wallahs, too. Solar and wind (and in fact nuclear, too) generates when electricity isn't wanted, which is easily managed when they only represent a small amount of the total, but is getting to be a serious issue. They can see themselves turning their excess production into hydrogen, via electrolysis:
(f) even the Russians might be able to play: they can turn their methane into hydrogen (via steam reforming) and sell that to us instead of natgas (even if they need to, errr, think about all the left-over CO2 ...)
(g) SUNK COSTS(!) - as we keep saying on C@W.
And I'd contrast hydrogen strongly with two other supposed "energy-technologies of the future": (i) small nukes of various types; and (ii) carbon capture & storage (CCS, or these days CCUS), both of which have been identified as 100% necessary for decarbonisation, and only just-around-the-corner as regards technology and commercial feasibility**. As they have been for, errr, decades ... in which case, W(here)TF are they? Nope, small nukes and CCS don't pass my personal reality-check; writing not as an engineer but as a commercial type and longtime observer of what's actually happening, and what's BS.
Whereas hydrogen looks the part, in every dimension so far as I can see. Anone who's skeptical about any of this just needs to check out what's going on. In the Real World. Real companies, spending real cash (money of their own, at the moment) and real effort. Solving real problems along the way. Don't bet against it.
**Addendum: not to say there aren't stirrings in both these camps. And in principle, Big Oil & Gas ought to love the idea of CCS, on some of the same a priori grounds that make hydrogen attractive for them. But, among several other contrary indicators, Germany shows no interest whatever in CCS, an significant disadvantage when compared with their enthusiasm for H.