India has placed a significant bet on green hydrogen. The Indian government has already committed substantial financial resources, with over Rs 19,000 crores earmarked to transform the nation into a “global hub” for green hydrogen energy production, utilization, and export. However, a recent report by Bengaluru-based think-tank Climate Risk Horizons has raised important questions about the potential environmental impact of India’s green hydrogen initiatives.
India, like many countries, is actively seeking ways to reduce its dependence on polluting fossil fuels, particularly coal, which currently accounts for around 70% of the nation’s power generation. Among the strategies to transition to cleaner energy sources is green hydrogen.
Green hydrogen is produced through a process that involves splitting water into its constituent elements, hydrogen, and oxygen, using renewable electricity. This green variant stands in contrast to grey hydrogen, which relies on fossil fuels like natural gas or coal, making it significantly more carbon-intensive.
The National Green Hydrogen Mission, operating under the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), aims to position India as a global leader in the production and utilization of green hydrogen. To realize this ambitious goal, the MNRE has committed a substantial budget of Rs 19,744 crores for the mission, with Rs 17,490 crores allocated to the Strategic Interventions for Green Hydrogen Transition (SIGHT) program.
While the vision of green hydrogen is undoubtedly promising, the Climate Risk Horizons report raises concerns about the unintended consequences of hasty implementation. One of the primary concerns is the potential for increased carbon emissions.
The report highlights the issue of electrolysers, the devices critical to hydrogen production. To maximize efficiency, these electrolysers may run continuously, even when renewable energy sources are not generating power. This means that at times when solar and wind energy are unavailable, they could rely on electricity generated from India’s coal-powered grid, directly contributing to carbon emissions.
Furthermore, if green hydrogen production relies on coal-generated power, it might end up being even more carbon-intensive than grey hydrogen, due to its embodied emissions, the greenhouse gases released during the production process. This, in essence, contradicts the fundamental goal of transitioning to cleaner, greener energy sources.
Another concern addressed by the report is the MNRE’s definition of green hydrogen. It raises questions about whether this definition encompasses the embodied emissions of the electricity used to produce green hydrogen. Additionally, the inclusion of biomass in the definition is problematic because of carbon emissions from the gasification process and concerns about biomass sources.
The success of India’s green hydrogen mission hinges on the development of a robust carbon accounting system. The report emphasizes the importance of rigorous accounting methods and safeguards, ensuring that green hydrogen is powered entirely by new, additional renewable energy sources matched to consumption on an hourly basis.
A weak accounting system that includes renewable energy credits or matches consumption with renewable energy generation on a monthly or annual basis could undermine the mission’s carbon reduction objectives. It could also harm the credibility of India’s clean hydrogen industry, hampering international credibility and access to export markets.
India’s green hydrogen mission is not without risks. The report suggests that the focus on green hydrogen might divert financial resources away from grid renewable energy projects, potentially delaying India’s journey to net-zero emissions. The challenge lies in striking the right balance between investments in green hydrogen and grid renewable energy, ensuring that both can coexist and contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable energy landscape.
With major corporations like the Adani Group, TATA, and L&T investing in the green hydrogen industry, it’s essential to address these concerns swiftly and effectively. The success of India’s green hydrogen mission could be a game-changer in its transition to a greener future, but only if the path chosen is genuinely green and sustainable.