Green hydrogen could be the cheapest form of H2 production within the next five years, a panel at the Irena Assembly gathering in Abu Dhabi heard on Saturday.

Thani Al Zeyoudi, environment minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), told the ministerial roundtable on hydrogen: “With further investment, hydrogen production could become cost competitive in the next five years. In the UAE, we are building the region’s first solar-driven hydrogen electrolysis facility.”

EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson added that hydrogen was a “key instrument” to enable the EU to meet its goal of zero emissions by 2050.

As Faith Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, explained: “Hydogen can help overcome many difficult energy challenges. It can decarbonise hard-to-abate-sectors like steel, chemicals, trucks, ships and planes. Hydrogen can also enhance energy security by diversifying the fuel mix and providing flexibility to balance grids.”

The scaling up of green hydrogen — produced by using renewable energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen — was the main topic of discussion, with roundtable participants agreeing that the cost of green H2 is expected to halve in the coming decades.

“We target decentralised and large-scale application. It’s important to leave the pilot phase and scale up projects that are viable,” said Manuel Kuehn, Siemens vice-president for strategy and business development in the Middle East for Siemens in the Middle East, who is oversseing the aforementioned solar/green-hydrogen pilot in the UAE.

Birol concluded the debate by saying: “We need to build a grand collation and work together with all countries and stakeholder of the world. Cooperation between IEA and IRENA will be key in this regard.”

More than 95% of the hydrogen used industrially today is produced from steam methane reforming, which releases nine to 12 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of hydrogen produced.

When it is burned, or injected into a fuel cell to generate electricity, the only by-product is water vapour, making it one of the promising fuels for long-term energy storage, clean heat production (in homes and heavy industry) and for long-distance transport.