Can Green Hydrogen Fuel India’s Clean Energy Transition?

Anirudh Krishnan

Due to the current global warming and climate change trends, there is a need to shift to cleaner forms of energy. Green hydrogen is a clean and sustainable alternative to other forms of hydrogen fuel. With India’s commitments to scale up on green hydrogen production, use, and export, there is a significant opportunity for the nation to become a leader in the arena of green hydrogen. This paper examines the key challenges and avenues for India to adopt green hydrogen, including infrastructure requirements, financing, and other prerequisites. The paper also discusses the short-term environmental and economic costs of transitioning various sectors of the economy such as transport and energy to sectors that can function on green hydrogen. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the latest union budget provisions pertaining to the energy sector and green hydrogen, and suggests a way forward for the transition.

KEYWORDS: Green hydrogen, green energy, energy efficiency, GHG emissions, transition to green hydrogen

Due to imminent global warming and declining environmental trends, the current energy ecosystem of the world is facing several challenges and requires urgent transformation. An increasing trend of renewable energy use can be seen globally, paving the way for innovations and further investment into cleaner sources of energy. This trend has emerged strongly in the transport sector, with increasing prevalence of renewable transport options through electric vehicles and other fuel-friendly options.

Derived from one of the most abundant and ubiquitous elements in nature, green hydrogen is a clean, efficient, and green fuel. It can be produced using renewable and non-renewable energy sources and technological inputs, all of which have different greenhouse gas emissions (The Economist, 2021). However, most of the hydrogen presently in use is derived using fossil fuels. Hydrogen generated using coal is known as grey hydrogen, whereas hydrogen generated using natural gas is known as brown hydrogen. These forms of hydrogen release carbon dioxide on combustion. Green hydrogen, on the other hand, produces no carbon emissions. It is generated through the process of electrolysis, which relates to using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. This electricity is generated using renewable sources of energy such as solar energy and wind energy, and hence, the hydrogen fuel which is extracted from this process is called Green Hydrogen (Chauhan, 2022).

Hydrogen and its derivatives can play an important role in reducing emissions in hard to abate sectors such as heavy industries, shipping, transportation, and aviation. In the year 2021-2022, the consensus towards hydrogen as a fuel remained positive, with nine countries having 30% of global energy sector emissions drafting concrete plans for integrating hydrogen into the energy ecosystem (IEA, 2022). The demand for hydrogen also grew for new applications like fuel cells for electrical vehicles – particularly in heavy trucks in China. Furthermore, when it comes to the transportation sector, the world’s first fleet of hydrogen trains started operating in Germany. Various shipping companies have also committed to strategic partnerships to obtain hydrogen derivatives in the short term (ibid.).

Unfortunately, the majority of current hydrogen production results in grey hydrogen as a product, since these production practices use coal, natural gas, and other cheap production methods for electrolysis which are harmful for the environment. The production of hydrogen used in the petrochemical industries and the chemical sectors itself is responsible for more than 900 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide annually (ibid.). Switching to green hydrogen use in such sectors can be beneficial since a transition to green hydrogen use won’t present severe technological challenges, since only the source of hydrogen changes.