The current interest in hydrogen is almost frightening. Too often we already had H2 hypes, according to which the image of hydrogen was worse than ever before. A number of industry representatives with whom I have talked these days are therefore sceptical and fear that the hope for sustainable change that is just emerging will immediately be destroyed again.
At the same time, however, something is currently being felt that did not previously exist. Something is different from the previous hypes, as if the premonition of something new was already in the air.
At the time of the first hype, some developers had first emphasised the advantages of H2 and FC technology and – as we later discovered – made unfounded promises about how quickly first products could get to market. A few years later, the media then celebrated fuel cells as an innovative technology of the future, but then quickly wrote them off again.
In contrast, we now have a completely different starting position: While these earlier hypes were driven solely by technology, today there is an acute need for action. At that time there were discussions about global warming and sustainability, but hardly anyone really wanted to change anything. Today – after the diesel scandal, driving bans, Fridays-for-Future, climate refugees, drought summers etc. – there are many more people who don’t want to go on like this.
Another important point is that this is happening not only in Germany, but worldwide. In addition, it is becoming increasingly clear that Germany is no longer a pioneer when it comes to climate protection or renewable energies. The solar and wind industry in Germany is on the ground, while in Asia in particular the government is clearly pointing the way towards greater sustainability. While we are hesitant to start with battery cars here, China is already reducing subsidies for them again and is focusing entirely on hydrogen instead.
But the biggest difference between the hypes of that time and the situation I perceive today is the mood of the population. I’m not talking about the Fridays for Future kids, about whom there are very different opinions. I mean the consciousness of the average consumer, who has been telling me more and more recently: Battery cars are all well and good, but the future is hydrogen!
In recent months – almost unnoticed by sociologists or the media – an opinion-forming process seems to have taken place in society. The collected intelligence of the citizens anticipates a development for which many of the so-called experts and politicians needed much longer.
In line with this, however, all sorts of politicians are now suddenly daring to take to the microphones and announce hydrogen strategies – whether at local, state or federal level.
After “little Austria” first advanced and announced that it wanted to become the number one hydrogen nation (see Austria as hydrogen nation No. 1), it took just eight days for the German Federal Environment Minister to present a PtX action programme, and further eight days for the German Federal Economics Minister to claim that it “wanted to become the number one in the world for hydrogen technologies” (see Minister of Economics announces H2 strategy).
Even the Greens seem to finally give up their decades-long rejection of H2 and FC technology: On 10 July 2019, six members of the Bundestag presented a position paper in which it was stated: “Hydrogen can and should make our country cleaner.” We will probably never know why this long overdue step was so difficult for an ecoparty.
But if even in the CSU it is now true that “hydrogen is increasingly establishing itself as a storage technology for the national and global energy turnaround of energy systems” (quote: Sandro Kirchner, parliamentary party leader of CSU Bavaria), and Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer states that “hydrogen is good for the climate”, an environmental party must of course no longer lag behind.
At state level, Olaf Lies, Environment Minister in Lower Saxony, has long wanted to establish his state as an H2 region. In return, he recently pledged 40 million euros in investment funds, for 2020 alone. Brandenburg would also like to move in this direction and become a “model state for the use of H2 technology”, said Economics Minister Jörg Steinbach. Even the Saarland is to be developed into a model region for hydrogen research in the opinion of its Economics Minister Anke Rehlinger.
That’s why, because of all these developments, I have the feeling that this time it’s not just a hype, but there’s a certainty in the air that something fundamental must and will change. And we cannot only be witnesses of it, but we can actively participate in shaping it. Finally!
However, it is still questionable how strong the resistance of the established actors will be. The direction of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology to temporarily (until 2040/50) rely on so-called “blue” hydrogen from fossil energy sources and on CCS technology suggests that by no means everything is clear. Instead, it looks as if there are still many people who would like to stretch the actually necessary short-term energy turnaround over many years – for whatever reason.