British Columbia commits to a climate-friendly future through hydrogen energy

The provincial government has established new legislation to fast-track production, compliance, and consultations for hydrogen development.

aerial view of island with bridge

Hydrogen (H2), an abundant element found in water (H2O), can help lead Vancouver towards a low-carbon energy future. Photo: Lee Robinson/Unsplash

In line with B.C.’s goals to transition away from fossil fuels and towards a low-carbon energy system, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation recently announced that it’s established a single-window regulator for low-carbon hydrogen development. The news arrives on the heels of a report from the United Nations that countries are falling short of global climate goals — meaning that a future of intense forest fires and sea level rise are even more likely for Metro Vancouver if a rapid reduction in fossil fuel use doesn’t take place soon.

Why it matters: According to BC’s Hydrogen Strategy released last year, energy demand in B.C. is highest in the industrial sector, followed by transportation, residential, and commercial use. 70 percent of this energy demand is currently met through fossil fuels such as natural gas and gasoline. Hydrogen could replace a significant percentage of this requirement.

Prior to this announcement, the B.C. energy regulator was formerly known as the Oil and Gas Commission, leaving hydrogen projects to wander through a number of bureaucratic hoops. The new legislation provides a centralized location for industry to work with the provincial government on bringing hydrogen projects to life. “[This] will serve to simplify and accelerate the regulatory approvals process so our world-leading technology companies can go faster and further,” said Ged McLean, executive director of the B.C. Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy.

Vancouver remains at the forefront of shaping provincial policy. The adoption of the new legislation was one of the key recommendations of Invest Vancouver’s Clean Transportation report, released late last year.

Hydrogen? Hydrogen (H2) is the most abundant element in the universe. When hydrogen is split from water (H2O) or released from organic material, it becomes an energy carrier that can generate electricity, power, and heat, and can be stored in liquid or gas form for later use. However, not all hydrogen is created equal, and some production methods are carbon intensive, meaning that the electricity which is generated also creates greenhouse gas emissions. This is typically communicated in terms of colours: green hydrogen is produced from renewable sources with low carbon intensity; blue hydrogen is produced from non-renewable sources, but has low carbon intensity when paired with carbon capture and storage technology; and grey hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels and has high carbon intensity.

From local to global: Vancouver Tech Journal has previously reported on local leaders in hydrogen technology. Burnaby-based Loop Energy recently expanded into the U.K. to help decarbonize commercial vehicle transport through its hydrogen fuel cell technology; Vancouver’s Ekona Power produces hydrogen and solid carbon from natural gas with zero emissions; and Delta-based Hydra Energy converts diesel engines in the commercial trucking transport to co-combustion hydrogen engines, providing “Hydrogen-as-a-Service”.

B.C. is well-positioned for not only domestic production of hydrogen but also international export. Proximity to markets such as China, Japan, South Korea, and California are predicted to account for almost 50 percent of total global demand for hydrogen by 2050, with a combined market size of CAD $305 billion, according to a study commissioned by the province in 2019.

“People in British Columbia want to fight climate change and better protect our environment, while supporting clean energy jobs and economic growth,” said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation. “We aspire to be a global hydrogen leader, and we are serious about supporting our hydrogen sector. These legislative changes enable further development of our growing hydrogen industry, and help our province transition away from fossil fuels to a cleaner, low-carbon energy system.”

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