How hydrogen can fuel green energy

In 1875, science fiction writer Jules Verne posited an idea that was considered rather preposterous at the time.

“Water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable,” he wrote in his book ‘The Mysterious Island’.

Today, Verne’s prophecy is well on its way to becoming a reality. Touted as the ‘green oil of the 21st century’, hydrogen is increasingly being promoted as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Being a ‘clean’ burner, hydrogen promises to be a valuable weapon in the fight against climate change. Allianz Corporate Global & Specialty (AGCS), the corporate insurer of the Allianz Group, illustrates the opportunities and the risks that the molecule presents. 

H for high potential

From childhood, we have all been told the value of hydrogen as the building block of water, the elixir of life.

Companies as well as governments are now waking up to its potential in the decarbonization of the economy. Unlike fossil fuels, hydrogen emits water instead of carbon dioxide when it burns. As such, the opportunities are abundant in the fields of energy, mobility and industry.

Some big-ticket projects in the area include the $20-billion ‘North H2’ project in the North Sea near Groningen in the Netherlands and the $5-billion Neom Mega-City development in Saudi Arabia.

According to McKinsey, the annual global sales market for hydrogen technology is estimated at $2.5 trillion in the next three decades.

The opportunities

So what’s so special about hydrogen? Plenty.

It can carry and store energy, provide fuel for all means of transport, and substitute for fossil hydrocarbons in industries such as steel production, petrochemicals and refineries, often the most difficult sectors to decarbonize.

It stores more energy per unit of weight than most other fuels. A kilo of hydrogen can power an SUV up to 100 kilometers.

Possible to make from low-carbon sources, it can be stored, liquified and transported through pipelines, trucks and ships. Hydrogen in fuel cells can be used for heavy transport in trains, airplanes or ships. It not only makes it possible to drive without carbon emissions, but also helps to cover longer distances and refuel faster than battery-powered vehicles.

What’s more, it is a single product with applications in multiple sectors such as electricity, heat supply and mobility.

Several projects are already highlighting the possibilities.

Korean automaker Hyundai has delivered its first series of trucks with hydrogen tanks to Switzerland while German industrial conglomerate Thyssenkrupp plans to use hydrogen to replace coking coal in steel production by 2030. In Austria, a hydrogen train of the French railway company, Alstom, has started regular operation.

The challenges

Although the market is huge, some wrinkles must be ironed out before we can harness the full potential of hydrogen for our energy needs. Currently, it is produced mainly from high-carbon sources. With efficiencies of scale yet to be reached, its production, storage and transport are expensive.

Further, the supply and value chains for its use are complex and need coordination. In addition, new safety standards are yet to be developed and it will take time for hydrogen to gain societal acceptance.

The risks associated with hydrogen pertain mainly to fire and explosion hazard and business interruptions associated with inadequate use and handling of related technologies as well as transportation of the product.

When mixed with air, hydrogen can cause explosions. Being colorless and odorless, it is hard to identify leaks without specialized detectors. Ensuring the integrity of the systems in use is necessary to minimize the risk of business interruption.

The transport of liquefied or compressed gaseous hydrogen in containers is also a known risk.

A chance for insurers    

At the moment, hydrogen accounts for less than 2 percent of Europe’s energy consumption. This could change going forward. Last year, the European Commission announced its hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe. The strategy includes an ambitious target of 40 gigawatts of European electrolyzer capacity to produce ‘green’ hydrogen by 2030.

Given the focus, insurers are likely to see a significant increase in demand for insurance in the future to construct and operate electrolysis plants and pipelines for green hydrogen production and transportation.

Besides providing industrial insurance through AGCS, Allianz participates in the hydrogen economy though asset ownership. Allianz Capital Partners (ACP), which is a part of Allianz Global Investors, is one of the world’s largest infrastructure investors. ACP is already engaged in several hydrogen projects through its portfolio companies. Especially ACP’s direct investments in the power and gas grid sector are working on ways to replace or blend hydrogen with natural gas leveraging the existing networks.

Be it the first blending projects of hydrogen with natural gas in the UK, Spain and Portugal or, in the transport sector, the first hydrogen-powered train in the UK and hydrogen fueling stations at Germany’s motorway stations – Allianz is part of it.

For an in-depth look into the opportunities and risks associated with hydrogen, click here  for the AGCS report. 

Allianz Commercial is the center of expertise and global line of Allianz Group for insuring mid-sized businesses, large enterprises and specialist risks. Among our customers are the world’s largest consumer brands, financial institutions and industry players, the global aviation and shipping industry as well as family-owned and medium enterprises which are the backbone of the economy. We also cover unique risks such as offshore wind parks, infrastructure projects or Hollywood film productions. Powered by the employees, financial strength, and network of the world’s #1 insurance brand, we work together to help our customers prepare for what’s ahead: They trust on us for providing a wide range of traditional and alternative risk transfer solutions, outstanding risk consulting and Multinational services as well as seamless claims handling. Allianz Commercial brings together the large corporate insurance business of Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) and the commercial insurance business of national Allianz Property & Casualty entities serving mid-sized companies. We are present in over 200 countries and territories either though our own teams or the Allianz Group network and partners. In 2022, the integrated business of Allianz Commercial generated more than €19 billion gross premium globally.

These assessments are, as always, subject to the disclaimer provided below.

The Allianz Group is one of the world's leading insurers and asset managers with around 125 million* private and corporate customers in nearly 70 countries. Allianz customers benefit from a broad range of personal and corporate insurance services, ranging from property, life and health insurance to assistance services to credit insurance and global business insurance. Allianz is one of the world’s largest investors, managing around 746 billion euros** on behalf of its insurance customers. Furthermore, our asset managers PIMCO and Allianz Global Investors manage about 1.8 trillion euros** of third-party assets. Thanks to our systematic integration of ecological and social criteria in our business processes and investment decisions, we are among the leaders in the insurance industry in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In 2023, over 157,000 employees achieved total business volume of 161.7 billion euros and an operating profit of 14.7 billion euros for the group.
* Including non-consolidated entities with Allianz customers.
** As of March 31, 2024.

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