Minister Nally On Hydrogen: Look Beyond Colour

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Hydrogen presently has as many as nine colour codes, identifying how the chemical element was produced. But according to a member of the Alberta government, one’s view of hydrogen shouldn’t be limited by these markers.

Dale Nally, the province’s associate minister of natural gas and electricity, spoke at the Positive Energy conference, which was held at the University of Ottawa this week.

Nally, who connected to the conference virtually, was asked by a conference attendee: what is Alberta’s definition of clean hydrogen?

“Is this hydrogen produced from oilsands and natural gas resources, is this hydrogen with CCS, which is called blue, or are you talking about green hydrogen produced in Alberta?” they asked.

Nally replied that he appreciated the question “more than you know.”

“Right now, we have a world that is getting into one of two camps,” he added. “They are getting into the green camp because it’s got the label green on it, or they are in the blue camp because they have carbon capture utilization and storage technology. I think we have to step away from those labels because the labels are deceiving.

“There are examples of clean hydrogen that is made from natural gas that is actually cleaner than some green hydrogen when you look at the full life cycle of hydrogen. For that reason, I don’t think we can classify hydrogen as a colour.

“By the way, there’s not just blue and green anymore … it’s hard to keep track,” he continued.

Nally then noted that the European Union has embraced green hydrogen.

“I think we have to encourage, in jurisdictions, to get away from those labels and embrace the cleanliness and the low-carbon nature of hydrogen,” Nally said.

“I don’t have an answer for you in terms of: what is the definition of ultra-clean … I think we have to find a definition and we have to agree on it with some global standards. It can’t be about the colour because the colour isn’t the answer, every colour has different examples of carbon intensity.

“We need to make the conversation about carbon intensity,” he continued, adding “that’s what matters the most.”

“And maybe we start off with 80 per cent, keep the bar low. If we are able to produce hydrogen where 80 per cent of the carbon is captured, that would be a phenomenal step forward. Then let’s raise the bar to 90, let’s go to 95, let’s go to 98.”

Alberta has what it dubs its Hydrogen Roadmap, which is a plan that integrates hydrogen with the province’s existing energy system This past April, Alberta Innovates launched the Clean Hydrogen Centre of Excellence.

Another conference attendee asked Nally what he sees as new in the way in which government and businesses in Alberta are collaborating around CCS and hydrogen.

“[It’s] how we are collaborating on decarbonization,” replied Nally. “We recognize that it’s important to decarbonize. We can wait to 2050 and do it all at once or we can start and be pragmatic and do it right.

“I see industry and government, at all levels, working together for the first time,” he added. “There is this impression of industry that is it makes money at all costs and I can tell you, that’s not what I see. As the associate minister of natural gas, electricity, and my engagement with energy companies, I’m not seeing it.

“I’m seeing executives of these companies, shareholders, they want clean air and clear water just like you and I do. They want to find a way to responsibly make money in a manner that respects the environment.”

Tactics cutting emissions

In Nally’s keynote talk, he covered the province’s strides made in decarbonization, including the growth of its renewable energy industry.

“Since we came into government in 2019, we have seen $3.1 billion in renewable energy projects that have been announced,” Nally said. “The Canadian Energy Regulator actually said we have the fastest-growing renewable power in the country, and we are proud of that.

“The best part is, we did it without any taxpayer subsidies. That’s important, we have a market-based approach,” he added. “If anybody tells you that you have to subsidize renewable energy through the taxpayer, tell them to look at Alberta.”

Nally also noted the province’s coal-to-gas conversions at “breakneck speeds,” methane emission reduction progress, and collaboration with other provinces to assess small modular reactors.

“We are working with Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick to explore … small-scale nuclear power technology that could lower emissions and diversify the province’s energy sector,” Nally said.

This lets Alberta stay informed on the latest developments related to this technology and ensure the appropriate regulatory framework is in place, he continued.

“Since 2014, we have reduced methane emissions by 34 per cent and by 2025 we will have reduced methane emissions by 45 per cent,” he said. “This is translating into us having the cleanest natural gas in the world.”

According to Nally, another way in which the province can also contribute to a clean energy future through LNG.

“This is a very competitive field,” he said. “We have the cleanest natural gas in the world … but also, when you get our natural gas to the coast, the liquefaction process will be powered by hydroelectricity as opposed to using thermal energy for the liquefaction process.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to not just decarbonize in Canada but to collaborate with the rest of the world by getting our natural gas and our LNG to global markets to help them decarbonize,” he added.

Oil and gas remains vital

Nally said Canadian oil and gas will continue to be crucial to maintain energy affordability and reliability.

“We are simply not at a point where they can realistically be phased out anytime soon without widespread repercussions in Canada and around the globe,” he added.

According to Nally, “all credible energy forecasts show oil and gas is going to stay high in demand until about 2040.”

“In light of the geopolitical market tightness that we don’t see easing anytime soon and in light of the enormous progress made to cleanup and diversify our natural gas supply chains, I’m left asking why any logical Canadian demonizes this industry.”

Nally said other parts of the world consider natural gas a clean power source when paired with CCUS. “It’s about time Canadian leaders and everyday Canadians also followed suit.”

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