Editorial: Hydrogen economy reality checks for B.C.

Be it grey, blue or green hydrogen, the road to harnessing it for mainstream transportation applications is littered with potholes and detours.

Just ask B.C.’s hydrogen fuel cell pioneer Ballard Power Systems Inc. It started on that road in the late 1980s, and it has still not completed the journey. B.C.’s NDP government deserves applause for releasing its own road map outlining how the province will arrive at that destination, but it is going to take much more than the $10 million over three years allocated in its 2021 budget to significantly advance the hydrogen economy in the province to a place where it is a viable option for goods and people movement. For example, the Hydrogen Council estimates annual investments of between US$20 billion and US$25 billion until 2030 will be required to position hydrogen production and storage technology in a place that hydrogen can play a significant role in meeting global energy demand. The Brussels-based organization notes that China’s 2021-24 fuel cell support program alone will invest US$5 billion on fuel cell vehicle deployment. Meanwhile, the hydrogen-as-a-clean-power-solution equation is complicated. Consider, for example, that, like electricity, hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source. Its production therefore requires other energy sources. If those sources are not renewable, hydrogen delivers no significant net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It also takes more energy to produce hydrogen than it provides. Its cost, transmission, distribution and storage and consumer safety are other major challenges facing its elevation into the decarbonization mainstream. But for all of that, the provincial government is correct in trumpeting the economic and environmental opportunities in the emerging hydrogen economy. Key to B.C. successfully tapping those opportunities is government providing the resources and incentives to overcome the challenges and being open and transparent with the data and science involved in those challenges. The province needs a singular informed focus here or its progress on the hydrogen highway will be minimal.