What does green hydrogen mean for international relations?

As world leaders promise a sharper pivot to a carbon-free future, an old answer resurfaces to a trillion-dollar question: where will we find energy when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. not?

Put aside giant batteries, nuclear fission, natural gas, and pumped hydroelectricity for now. The future of global energy markets may lie in the creation of carbonless hydrogen. According to the scholars Fridolin Pflugmann and Nicola De Blasio, green hydrogen can backfire (or maybe just rework) the century-old balance of power between oil and gas exporting countries and those who depend on them.

Green hydrogen is created when carbonless electricity (usually produced from the wind or the sun) forces water molecules to separate, storing energy which is then released when hydrogen joins oxygen, again forming water. Hydrogen can be stored or transported as a liquid or gas, and can replace both oil and natural gas in sectors that are difficult to electrify, such as heavy industry and air transport.

The technology has been around for decades, but since renewable energy was expensive until recent years, the hydrogen made with it was also too expensive to use on a large scale. Now that wind and solar are cheap and the world more serious about tackling climate change, the future of green hydrogen may be about to take off – a shift that could redistribute power. geopolitics.

After a century of domination by globalized petrostats, a boom in green hydrogen could democratize energy. Instead of drilling and fracturing deposits deep underground, an exporting country would simply need to harness more solar or wind power than it needs in a year.

But the abundant wind and sunny days alone don’t make a green hydrogen tycoon. Many of the oil-rich, sun-burnt Middle Eastern countries that dominate oil production today could certainly generate additional solar power, but they may never become major exporters of green hydrogen because that they lack another increasingly precious resource: water. Pflugmann and De Blasio also find that fossil fuel transport infrastructure, like pipelines and storage areas, could help countries become major exporters of green hydrogen, as this infrastructure can be reused for hydrogen.

In the future, green hydrogen heavyweights could increase, as countries with promising hydrogen prospects invest in even more hydrogen research, development and infrastructure. Australia is currently doing just that, with several large green hydrogen plants underway in the sunniest parts of the country. The authors predict that one of the most important international power changes would be the reduction of Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas. Despite these new dynamics, they write: “If renewable hydrogen were to be adopted on a large scale, we believe that future market dynamics will resemble the regional natural gas markets of today – with corresponding potential for similar geopolitical conflicts. . “

There is an encouraging distinction between the current global oil and gas policy and the burgeoning green hydrogen policy: unlike fossil fuels, which are concentrated in a handful of countries, all kinds of countries have strong resources. into renewable energy and water. Because those best equipped to export green hydrogen are so diverse geographically and politically – from Morocco to Australia to Norway – the rise of hydrogen may take the edge off global politics, at least around oil.

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By: Fridolin Pflugmann and Nicola De Blasio

Geopolitics, History and International Relations, vol. 12, n ° 1 (2020), pp. 9-44

Addleton University Publishers

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