Green hydrogen is emerging as a transformative solution, a clean energy carrier produced through renewable energy-driven electrolysis, which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. This innovative approach has the potential to revolutionize both energy security and climate goals.
In fact, by the end of 2022, over 70 countries across the globe had already developed or initiated the drafting of national hydrogen strategies, signaling the importance of this sustainable energy source (UNECE 2023).
Central Asia, a region with vast untapped renewable energy resources and vast expanses of land suitable for renewables installations, is poised to be a green hydrogen powerhouse. Among the Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan has taken strides in drafting its national hydrogen strategy, further cementing the region’s commitment to renewable and hydrogen energy development. In 2021, Uzbekistan approved a presidential decree aimed at fostering renewable and hydrogen energy (UNECE 2023). Kazakhstan is also making progress with its own national hydrogen concept.
Green hydrogen combines the strengths of reliability associated with fossil fuels and the environmental benefits inherent to renewables. Unlike renewables like solar and wind, which are intermittent and struggle to produce high heat required in specific industrial sectors (the hard-to-abate sectors, including steel production), green hydrogen offers a reliable energy source. Crucially, it doesn’t produce greenhouse gas emissions, making it a clean alternative to gray hydrogen (produced from fossil fuels) and blue hydrogen (a blend of fossil fuels and carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies). Shockingly, in 2021, an overwhelming 95% of hydrogen production was rooted in fossil fuels (IEA 2022; IRENA 2021; Kane and Gil 2022).
The most promising applications for green hydrogen are in hard-to-abate sectors, energy storage (including long-term storage and storing excess renewable energy), and cross-border trade, particularly where electrical transmission lines are lacking. Countries endowed with abundant renewable energy resources—like Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Middle East—are exploring the export of green hydrogen to energy-hungry economies such as Japan, the European Union, and South Korea. The global green hydrogen market, valued at $676 million in 2022, is projected to skyrocket to $7.3 billion by 2027 (Markets and Markets 2022).
Central Asia boasts vast untapped renewable resources, including solar and wind energy, extensive land for renewable energy installations, and export opportunities. These attributes position the region as a promising green hydrogen producer. However, some challenges must be navigated.
The production cost of green hydrogen stands as a major obstacle. It’s anticipated to decrease substantially by 2030–2050 due to falling renewable energy costs, potentially making green hydrogen cost-competitive with fossil fuel-based hydrogen (blue or gray) (Durakovic, Crespo del Granado, and Tomasgard 2023). Economies of scale, achieved through large-scale production, can also drive down costs (Azhgaliyeva, Seetha Ram, and Zhang 2023). However, a lack of local and international demand, along with a dearth of infrastructure for production, transportation, and utilization of green hydrogen, could pose challenges (Zholdayakova et al. 2022). Unlike coastal nations, landlocked Central Asia necessitates long-distance land transportation infrastructure (Figure 1).
In conclusion, Central Asia’s green hydrogen potential is vast and promising. With the right strategy, these nations could harness their abundant renewable energy resources, bolster regional and international cooperation, and play a pivotal role in shaping the future of clean energy.