Commentary RESEARCH

Enabler of transition

Aria

2024-01-26 08:32

LUO TIANYI and EMANUELE BIANCO
China Daily

The year 2023 was the warmest on record, overtaking the previous record year by a large margin, with the 2023 average approaching the key Paris agreement threshold of 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels, the World Meteorological Organization officially confirmed at the beginning of 2024. The WMO has consolidated six international datasets to arrive at a global temperature of 1.45 C above the 1850-1900 baseline, plus or minus 0.12 C.

In the World Energy Transitions Outlook 2023, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) calls for raised global ambition in renewables deployment, enabled by renewable energy, clean hydrogen, and sustainable biomass solutions, and for countries to seize all opportunities to stay on a 1.5 C pathway as the window for doing so is rapidly closing.

At COP28, more than 130 countries took the unprecedented step of signing a pledge to triple their renewable power capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030. This is an ambitious, unprecedented and important step on the way to achieving 1.5 C.

But to achieve the 1.5 C target, in addition to infrastructure, laws and regulations, technological breakthroughs, market mechanisms and capacity building, we should factor in and prioritize the adverse impacts of increasingly frequent extreme weather events caused by climate change on the global energy transition.

Energy facility shutdowns caused by water shortages have made frequent headlines in the wake of intensifying climate change, the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and the growing uncertainties in precipitation. Meanwhile, as the post-pandemic recovery continues, the global energy demand has been climbing. That, combined with other challenges from the food crisis and the urbanization process, has intensified the conflict between water resources and energy needs.

Take clean hydrogen as an example. With clean hydrogen emerging as a key component in reducing emissions in "hard-to-abate" sectors such as steel-making and the chemical industry, clean hydrogen interest has been growing exponentially around the world in recent years.

Despite this, decision-makers, investors, technicians, and other people involved in the industry should be deeply aware of the fact that water availability is a critical factor for any hydrogen energy production facility. Currently, many hydrogen production projects are located in water-stressed regions of the world. For example, 99 percent of India's existing and planned green and blue hydrogen capacity is likely to be under extremely water-stressed conditions by 2040.

Green hydrogen, which is renewables-based, is the most water-efficient clean hydrogen production technology, according to a report titled Water for Hydrogen Production co-authored by IRENA and Bluerisk. Developing green hydrogen by leaps and bounds and taking water conditions as a critical production factor in the early, mid, and later stages of project planning in a more timely and accurate manner will help ensure a balance between meeting energy needs and conserving water resources.

IRENA forecasts that in the 1.5 C scenario, global hydrogen production could increase six-fold by 2050, compared with today, among which 94 percent of hydrogen could be green hydrogen.

As a world leader in accelerating the global energy transition, China is critical in the development of green hydrogen to the transition process.

Currently, around 63 percent of hydrogen produced in China is brown hydrogen that's both carbon-intensive and water-intensive and a large part of that is located in the Yellow River Basin, a region where the water-energy relationship is intense in the long run. By switching from brown hydrogen to green hydrogen, hydrogen production in the Yellow River Basin could grow by 11 percent by 2030, and at the same time involve 28 percent less water withdrawal and 20 percent less water consumption.

The Yellow River Protection Law, which came into effect in 2023, says water resources are a decisive factor for population planning, city development, land development and industrial growth. It provides guidelines for the green and low-carbon transition of regional energy industries.

Although China is taking the lead in some green hydrogen production technologies and improving relevant policies, the nation, faced with many challenges in this regard, is in dire need of a multi-pronged approach.

To start with, China could advance technological innovation and leverage economies of scale to lower the production cost. Second, relevant policies and mechanisms must play a bigger role in the process, particularly in emissions-intensive industries (such as the iron and steel industry and fertilizer production industry) to create stable and long-term demand for green hydrogen. Furthermore, there needs to be a strategic allocation of resources. Against the backdrop of limited resources and time, we need to prioritize sectors with larger carbon footprints to deliver more immediate results, such as decarbonizing the heating and cooling systems through electrification and direct use of more renewable energy.

Luo Tianyi is a director at Bluerisk. Emanuele Bianco is a program officer of the Knowledge, Policy and Finance Centre at the International Renewable Energy Agency. The authors contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

 


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2024-01-26 04:32
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