Last week, I wrote a post on how technological breakthroughs, specifically the Internet of Things (IoT), could help society close the “100-year gap” when it comes to finally bringing electricity to the billion people who still don’t have access to it. This week, as I attend the Asia Clean Energy Forum in Manila to speak about how to bring electricity to every home, I reflect on another technological breakthrough that can make microgrids reliable and resilient: hydrogen.
The conference, organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Korea Energy Agency (KEA), is designed to bring together innovators and players in four key areas that affect quality of life and access to power: energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy access, and clean energy innovations. Hydrogen, the most energetic of all elements, has the potential to influence all four of these areas in meaningful ways. The energy potential it contains is finally being made accessible through decades of hard work and technological innovation, including the work we are doing at Joi Scientific (which is why we are participating in the clean energy innovations track).
Hydrogen in water can light up this village in Southeast Asia.
Hydrogen 2.0 Means Exactly What It Implies
We’ve been there before. Scientists and engineers know all too well the enormous energy potential contained in the most abundant element in the universe, and here on Earth. Yet, the promise of a hydrogen economy, first predicted as early as 1923 by British scientist J.B.S. Haldane in a lecture at Cambridge University, always seemed ahead of its time. The enabling technology was simply not there to match the clean and unlimited energy ambitions of a growing society. Hydrogen had to wait until scientists and entrepreneurs could harness its vast potential, so that the number one element could work in concert with other sources of energy to supply the world with reliable and clean energy.
This is why we decided to call our vision, and that of other innovators, Hydrogen 2.0. The term refers to technology that can unlock the energy potential of hydrogen in a way that is affordable, easily available, and clean. And which can finally bring us closer to the Hydrogen Economy that visionaries, like Haldane and Jeremy Rifkin, have predicted for decades.
We Need Energy Innovations for Off-the-Grid Power
We seem to have arrived at a point of no-return for sustainable energy that is also affordable. On the cost side, renewables reached a major milestone last month. As we cited in our May 22 post, “for the first time in history, the production cost of renewables is lower than that of fossil fuels.” Forbes based this article on data that indicates that renewables are now cheaper to produce than fossil fuels ($30 vs $49 per MWh) and have a price volatility that is five-times lower. On the technology side, new milestones are reached nearly every week. All sustainable energies, from solar to hydrogen, are experiencing rapid technological advances, which are making them ever more efficient, resilient, and dependable.
These transformative changes need to make their way out of the grid and into the hands of the remaining 15% of humanity that the grid forgot. In Asia, where I’m writing from today, there are places where diesel generators are operating 24/7 to supply energy for hotels on exotic islands, or to power data centers that are sprouting everywhere and are too energy-intensive for existing grids to handle. There are also thousands of small villages across the continent that use these engines to produce intermittent energy to provide only for basic needs, such as food production and health care.
There is a better way. Innovations in renewables make off-the-grid systems viable, to the point where local electricity generation―that serves to feed microgrids to single homes and even IoT devices―is the clear way to bring electricity to all of humanity without tradeoffs in costs or the environment.
The Role of Hydrogen Off-the-Grid
Hydrogen, in particular, is manifesting into a clean and affordable energy that can eliminate the variability issues inherent in wind and solar so that off-grid systems can have reliable energy 24/7. Hydrogen, generated on-site and on-demand, using technologies such as Hydrogen 2.0, holds the potential to solve many of the issues that have slowed the adoption of this energy source in the past.
For instance, because Hydrogen 2.0 can produce energy from water on-site, the expensive storage and transportation infrastructure of traditional hydrogen may no longer be a requirement. Because it can be produced on-demand, Hydrogen 2.0 can provide energy when there is no sun or wind, complementing other energy sources. Finally, because its combustion emits water vapor, it can even be used to produce clean drinking water, which will help to solve another significant problem for many communities in Asia, and elsewhere.
Efficient, Accessible, Renewable and Clean
As transformative as hydrogen promises to be, we see a future where all sources of energy that are available to society will work in concert to improve the quality of lives of all people and keep our economies growing without compromising our environment. Efficient, accessible, renewable, and clean―the four tracks of this conference―can only be realized when we all work in concert.
If you’re attending this year’s Asia Clean Energy Forum in Manila, drop by and see my talk, “Closing the 100-Year Gap: Electricity in Every Home,” where I dive deeper into the subject. Hope to see you there.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.
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As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.