Hydrogen - Norway’s next “oil”?
Hydrogen - Norway’s next “oil”?
author Added by FuelCellsWorks, December 22, 2015

If the world comes to an agreement on a new climate treaty, it might very well mean ending mid-story in Norway’s oil and gas fairy tale. Many unexploited oil and gas fields will simply have to remain in the ground.

This is the main conclusion from Rystad Energy, which was asked by the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment to map the realistic national and international oil and gas developments that can take place while avoiding going beyond the two-degree-scenario.

Norwegians have always known the oil won’t last forever, but there was never any talk about quitting before the party was over..

Hydrogen might indeed save the party – along with helping the country reach its ambitious emission reduction goals and rejuvenate its land- and off-shore based industry.

Norway’s near-term, large emission reductions will be made in the transport sector - which calls for the introduction of hydrogen.

Speaking of climate emissions in Norway, there are the Three Big; the oil- and gas sector, land based industry, and the transport sector. Altogether they account for two thirds of the climate emissions. Stationary energy production accounts for a mere 3%. Norway has committed itself both through international agreements and national objectives to reduce the national emissions drastically in the years ahead, and 2/3 of the emission reductions agreed upon according to the Kyoto protocol are to be taken nationally.

The transport sector then quickly points itself out as the most attractive choice for drastic emission reductions, since it is possible to achieve significant emission reductions in this sector in the short run, without affecting the national value creation - something drastic emission reductions in the other Two Big most likely will lead to. Norway is in fact already well on its way in this area, boasting the world’s best incentives for zero emission vehicles, as well as the most ambitious goal for tail-pipe emissions (a 85 g CO2/km average for all new cars sold in 2020). The incentives have resulted in battery electric vehicles accounting for 6% of all new cars sold in 2013, up from 3% in 2012. To reach the ambitious targets however, the entire car fleet of Norway will have to zero- or ultra low emission vehicles, which means adding hydrogen to the transportation fuel portfolio. Another aspect of this is that Norway has more than enough renewable power generation to be self-sufficient with electricity and hydrogen – a full transformation would demand roughly 10% of the current total electricity production.

Big industrial opportunities

Strict demands on tail-pipe emissions for the transport sector along with well adapted support schemes, will stimulate increased research, innovation and development for Norwegian industry actors which can gain a head start on vehicle component industries elsewhere, while simultaneously creating an important home market. Through developing technology solutions for the refueling infrastructure as well as high-tech components for zero emission vehicles, Norway is not only laying the foundations for national emission reductions, but also export of technology and competence to an international market which is increasingly asking for sustainable transport- and energy solutions.

Hydrogen is a highly interdisciplinary technology area which both demands knowledge about process technology and power production; fields in which Norwegian universities, research institutes and industry maintain a high competence level. Some of Norway’s large industrial actors played a key role during the last decade, and companies like Statoil and Hydro invested heavily to succeed within hydrogen as a fuel, but pulled their feet out of the water entirely in 2009. The know-how has been passed on to smaller niche companies, which lack the financial muscles to be able to take a significant position in the field internationally.

Synergies based on Norwegian expertise

Technology solutions for large scale hydrogen production and distribution, both at land and sea can be developed by Norwegian industry expertise, and research institutes have been working on technology development for large scale applications for several years. Foreign companies are also showing marked interest in Norway as a potential future large scale provider of sustainable hydrogen. Lighthouse projects for demonstrating such technology solutions will create strong synergy effects where multiple strong industries pull in the same direction. A major investment in hydrogen is thus also a major investment in the land based industry in Norway, while competence and jobs from the power-, oil- and gas industry, as well as the maritime industry are kept and further developed.

Energy Superpower – also in the future

What will Norway’s competitive edge be 40 – 50 years from now, if the main source of income no longer comes from oil and gas? Well, Norway has, and will far into the future continue to have vast resources of renewable energy. Norway has without comparison the largest hydro power resources in Europe, the best conditions for both on- and off shore wind, and some of the world’s largest reserves of thorium. But if Norway is going to export the clean energy further away than to its neighboring countries, converting it to high-energy products like aluminum or hydrogen is pretty much the only option.

The downturn of oil thus represents a unique chance for Norway to utilize its brain power and high competence within energy technology not only to ensure future income from the export of energy, but also make the country fit for the future by exporting sustainable energy and energy technology to the world markets. After years of fossil fuel exports many would argue that Norway has a special responsibility to do so as well.

New government – new revitalization?  

The winning coalition from the recent national election in Norway consists of the Conservative Party and the Progress Party, which have made a collaboration agreement with the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party. The winning parties have a high focus on technology and industrialization, and the latter two have the environment very high on the agenda. Eight years ago, when a similar coalition last led the parliament, they asked for a public report which assessed the future value creation potential for hydrogen in Norway. Named “Hydrogen as the future’s energy carrier” it carried an optimistic tone, and suggested among other things that Norway could use its vast natural gas resources to produce hydrogen as a “bridge” toward a fully renewable future. Einar Steensnæs, who was Norway’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy at the time, stated that he saw hydrogen as one of the future’s most important energy carriers, both in the transport sector as well as within stationary energy supply, and that Norway had great opportunities to play an important role internationally within the area.

As a result of the report, The Norwegian Hydrogen Council was established by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy and the Ministry of Transport and Communications. The Hydrogen Council is an expert advisory board which gives strategic advice to the Ministries, and had mainly done so through two national Action Plans; the most recent one being handed to the Ministries in May 2012. In the Action Plan the Hydrogen Council suggests the following overreaching vision for the Norwegian hydrogen efforts: “Norway – pioneering sustainable hydrogen”. Besides a positive, verbal response from Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa, the Minister of Transport and Communications at the time, there has been no official response to the Action Plan, nor any clear political signals as to whether hydrogen is still going to be an important focus area for Norway. The official documents related to climate have carried a clear enough tone, stating that “Norway should be in the forefront in the establishment of a hydrogen refueling infrastructure”, but the government has been very hesitant to follow up on its own ambitions. With a more technology focused government in place, chances are that hydrogen once again is emphasized as the energy carrier which will indeed save the party.

Valuable position and competence at stake

Norway’s position within hydrogen technology is hard earned over several decades. Large resources in the form of time and money have been invested, and many countries look to Norway for inspiration. If, however, the Norwegian government and industry don’t reinitiate the efforts within hydrogen with at least the same strength as before, the country stands in danger of lagging behind, lose valuable competence, and the opportunities which follow as the world now goes for electricity and hydrogen as the two main energy carriers of the future.

The Norwegian Hydrogen Council gave its recommendations in the last Action Plan, which not without reason had the following under title: “How to maintain our pioneering role”

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Bjørn Simonsen
Secretary General of the Norwegian Hydrogen Forum
Secretary of the Norwegian Hydrogen Council
bjorn.simonsen@hydrogen.no