"Generation H"

"Generation H"

Healing the climate with hydrogen.

"Generation H - Healing the climate with hydrogen" is the book written by the Snam CEO Marco Alverà and published in English by Mondadori, with contributions from international experts such as Gabrielle Walker, Lord Turner, Baroness Worthington, Luigi Crema, McKinsey & Company. The book has been presented in Rome during the conference "The Hydrogen Challenge - 2019 Global ESG Conference". Below is the introduction.

Generation H |  Foreword

The seeds for this book were sown at an unlikely gathering in Norway 12 years ago.

I was working at an oil and gas company, heading upstream operations in the Americas, UK, Russia and Norway, and had accepted an invitation to spend time at a friend’s house in a remote village on a fjord called Bjelland.
So I took a plane to Stavanger, and then a very small helicopter, which landed in the middle of a sheep field. In retrospect that had quite a carbon footprint, but it led me to a light-bulb moment. On a hike up a mountain with Dr Gabrielle Walker, the climate scientist and author, we talked for hours about climate change, its impact
and what needs to be done. Gabrielle talked me through the science, and she knows her stuff, but she landed the winning punch with a sort of Pascal’s wager of energy.

She told me that I didn’t have to be a climate change believer to start doing something about it.

If there was even a chance that the advocates were right, the risks involved in global warming were simply too big to take. That rang true. I returned from that hike determined to engage with the problem. As my engagement grew,
so did my concern. I was concerned that our efforts were focused on having more wind and solar energy in the electricity mix, when electricity only accounts for 20% of global energy. There didn’t seem to be any
realistic plan to decarbonise the rest of the system.

I was concerned that, while Europe must demonstrate leadership on climate change, with direct responsibility for a tenth of the globe’s emissions, it cannot win the war alone. We need a global effort, and one that brings economic opportunities for all the world’s citizens while minimising overall costs and sharing them fairly. And I was concerned that the energy system’s different sectors found it so difficult to coordinate a response.

As I discovered through my 20-year working life – moving from electricity to gas supply, to oil production, commodity trading and then energy infrastructure – the players in the system are not fully aware of what the others
do. Energy sources (coal, oil, gas, nuclear, renewables and hydro) and segments (extraction, trading, electricity production, energy transport and storage, distribution, sales) have distinct and often divergent business objectives, operate in markets that have limited overlap, and use different language and metrics.  This confusion hinders policy-makers too, making it difficult to overcome inertia in government and business.

That’s a list of worries. Combined with my growing understanding of the potential of climate change to bring damage to our lives, it left me downbeat on our ability to find actionable solutions to avert the crisis.

But lately some positive things have been happening. People have been mobilising, making concrete changes to
their lifestyles. They are using their wallets, their investments and the ballot box to get companies and governments to do better on climate change. Witness the global climate strike on 20 September 2019, the rise of ethical funds, green finance and companies with zero-carbon objectives, and the green turn taken by the European Parliament in recent elections, which is leading to a ratchet on European climate targets.

Meanwhile, the technological horizon is broadening. We are no longer just talking about greening power and increasing electrification, but also about decarbonising industry, transport and seasonal heating using biomethane, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and hydrogen made from renewable energy.

Clean hydrogen can be a game changer.

It has the potential to be an effective, affordable and global solution alongside renewable electricity and other low-carbon and renewable fuels. It can be a vital source of energy for a growing population while containing climate change. It can also reduce air pollution, which is estimated to kill millions of people a year, and is a huge cost to society in terms of healthcare.

And it can act as a great connector for the fragmented energy system. I have never liked the strategy of picking one technology and opposing all other available routes. In particular, CCS has long been distrusted by some, who see it as taking resources away from renewables. However, its role in the production of low-carbon hydrogen may help persuade naysayers that CCS can contribute to the energy transition.

One of the biggest hurdles has been cost, but that is changing, with the reduction in the cost of renewable power improving prospects for cheap green hydrogen. This should encourage us to work through all the other challenges in hydrogen’s path, so that we can leverage its full potential.

Snam, the energy infrastructure company I work at now, can play a key role. We are studying the potential to transport hydrogen in a blend with natural gas, so we can provide the physical network to connect producers and markets. We also aim to provide a network for ideas, policies and technological dissemination.

If the world needs to develop green gases, where better than a gas infrastructure company to get things moving?

That’s why we decided to convene a global hydrogen conference in Rome, and write a paper pulling together the different strands of our work. And over the summer, as I was writing this paperwith my team and sharing ideas with leading thinkers on the topic – including Fatih Birol, Lord Turner, Baroness Worthington, Luigi Crema and Gabrielle Walker – our ambition grew and we decided to turn it into an instant book.

The aim of this book is to highlight just how important hydrogen can be for the future of our planet, and to spur policymakers, businesses and consumers to start working to realise its potential.

We hope you like it.

Marco Alverà

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07 November 2019 - 12:42 CET