The global push for renewable hydrogen is well underway, with hydrogen electrolyzers at the forefront of this green revolution. In Europe, the development of these electrolyzers is integral to the Net-Zero Industry Act, a significant part of the EU’s green industrial policy. However, the landscape of this emerging industry is far from settled, with Europe, China, and the United States vying for supremacy in electrolyzer technology.
Europe’s Electrolyser Advantage
Europe currently stands as a strong contender in the global electrolyzer market. The continent’s electrolyzers are hailed as some of the best globally, boasting cutting-edge technology and innovation. Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, lobby chief of Hydrogen Europe, affirms Europe’s prowess in this field.
One notable advantage of European electrolyzers is their adaptability to produce green hydrogen, a crucial component of achieving net-zero emissions. European manufacturers have embraced the proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer, a more expensive but flexible technology. In line with the EU’s push for renewable hydrogen, electrolyzers must now meet stringent production standards. They must be powered by specific solar or wind plants and demonstrate flexibility in their operation. This regulation favors the PEM variant, setting Europe on a path toward green hydrogen leadership.
China’s Competitive Edge
China, on the other hand, has focused on producing cost-effective alkaline electrolyzers, making it the global leader in affordability. These electrolyzers are known for their reliability, offering consistent performance. However, they lack the flexibility of PEM electrolyzers.
The US: A Game Changer?
While Europe and China have established their positions in the electrolyzer market, the United States is yet to make a decisive move. The country’s regulations and subsidies hold the key to shaping the future of the industry. With the Inflation Reduction Act, the US is poised to become a major player in hydrogen production. Substantial subsidies, reaching up to $3 per kilogram of hydrogen, aim to break the critical $1 per kilogram price threshold.
However, the US is at a crossroads in defining its hydrogen standards. A decision by the U.S. Treasury Department looms large, and it could determine the trajectory of the electrolyzer industry. Europe’s strict hourly correlation rules, aligning electrolyzer operation with renewable energy production, offer a technological edge. If the US follows a similar path, European companies stand to benefit significantly.
A Global Influence
The implications extend beyond these regions. India, for instance, has set its own standards favoring cheaper electrolyzers. The choice of global regulations could impact the global hydrogen market, with implications for cost-effectiveness and environmental sustainability.
Debating the Climate Impact
While Europe champions hourly correlation rules for hydrogen production, a study questions the climate benefits of such stringent regulations. Oliver Ruhnau, a professor of energy market design at the University of Cologne, suggests that this approach may lead to overcapacity and unnecessary costs.
In a German case study, Ruhnau found that green hydrogen without hourly adjustment doesn’t necessarily increase emissions in the electricity sector. This challenges the belief that hourly correlation is essential for environmental benefits.
As Europe, the US, and China vie for hydrogen dominance, the outcome of regulatory decisions will shape the future of the electrolyzer industry and its pivotal role in the global transition to renewable hydrogen.