While world leaders convene in Sharm el-Sheikh for the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference, Canadian politicians are hard at work selling dreams of clean green energy to locals and foreigners alike.
Though the recent green energy export agreement signed between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was welcome news in Ottawa as much as Berlin, Canadian taxpayers should be mindful of politicians’ proclivity to overpromise and underdeliver. When it comes to promises of an energy transition powered by Canadian hydrogen, no amount of skepticism is too little.
Hydrogen boosters in Canada are emphatic the resource could help the nation become the world’s primary supplier of clean green energy. With obviously ample water and renewable energy resources, it isn’t hard to sell the idea to Canadians, some of whom are already under the misguided impression our oil and gas resources are cleaner, greener and more ethical than everyone else’s.
While it is hypothetically possible Canada could become an exporter of hydrogen, Trudeau’s pitch that hydrogen shipments from Atlantic Canada to Europe might begin as early as 2025 is ambitious to say the least. There are no extant production facilities anywhere on our East Coast, no hydrogen terminals, nor any of the infrastructure required to transport it either within our borders, let alone getting it across oceans. You can count on one hand the global total supply of ships capable of carrying gaseous hydrogen, all of which are highly experimental.
We are far from delivering on our boisterous pledge to free Europe from its dependency on Russian oil and gas, but it is not just the Germans we’re deluding: we delude ourselves as well. Hydrogen is far more myth than reality, a Rube Goldberg device of a solution to the problem of the climate crisis where myriad simpler solutions have existed for some time. It should come as no surprise the fossil fuel sector is hydrogen’s principle industry booster.
“The idea behind blue hydrogen is a new one,” says Dr. Robert W. Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology at Cornell University, “and it is totally the creation of the oil and gas industry, promoted through the Hydrogen Council since 2018.”
The Hydrogen Council, Howarth explains, was created by Shell, Total, British Petroleum, and other oil and gas giants for the express purpose of promoting so-called blue hydrogen as the alternative fuel of the future.
When Trudeau and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault speak of clean green hydrogen power, they are speaking about the theoretical possibility of converting Canada’s immense water resources into hydrogen, by breaking water molecules into their constituent components: oxygen and hydrogen.
To do so in an environmentally friendly fashion, renewable energy resources would be required to produce the large quantities of energy necessary to complete the process, such as through solar or wind power. The process is energy intensive, and thus expensive, but it’s also unnecessary: instead of using the renewable energy power source to create hydrogen, those solar panels…