About the author:
Rebekka Bond is a Mindfirst blogger and a Masters Of Global Affairs candidate at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto 2016
For many decades Canada has been recognized as a global leader in the hydrogen and fuel cell sector. In addition to this international renown, Canada enjoys a significant concentration of hydrogen and fuel cell expertise, and a growing number of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) looking to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen-based solutions both at home and abroad.
Despite these notable achievements, domestic interest in the hydrogen sector has not been as robust as one might expect.
Yet, the hydrogen and fuel cell sector in Canada is well positioned for a commercial resurgence. Governments around the world appear aligned in their commitment to reduce carbon emissions, improve air quality and support the transition towards a low-carbon economy. This new reality has created an unprecedented opportunity for a “reboot” in Canada’s hydrogen and fuel cell sector.
As our esteemed panellists, Bob Oliver, Rob Harvey, Matthew Fairlie and Adrian Bradford, pointed out – Hydrogen has an important role to play in moving us towards a decarbonized future. At Mindfirst’s March 24th event, guests were exposed to the potential of the hydrogen sector in Canada, and introduced to the current state of affairs, key players and stakeholders in the space, and the near and long-term opportunities that are emerging.
Evolving Perceptions of the Hydrogen Sector
The evolution of the hydrogen sector in Canada can be characterized by three distinct ‘waves’.
The first wave emerged following the oil price shocks of 1973. OPEC’s oil embargo created tremendous pressure to explore and diversify fuel sources, and hydrogen emerged as a compelling alternative fuel. However, the supply of oil pivoted quickly and price levels dropped dramatically – stalling interest in the hydrogen sector.
The second wave occurred in the 1990s. During this wave, hydrogen was not viewed as an alternative fuel source but instead as a clean air solution. This interest was stimulated by a desire to clean the air, particularly in urban environments. Sadly, this wave came and went.
Today, we’re in the midst of the third wave – hydrogen as a clean energy carrier. Addressing the daunting challenge of large-scale decarbonisation will require the proliferation of clean energy carriers, especially in the transportation sector. This is an important point for us to consider as we explore Canada’s position in an increasingly competitive global industry.
Hydrogen and Transportation
In Canada, transportation accounts for 23 percent of the country’s GHG emissions. If we are serious about dramatically reducing carbon emissions in a very short period of time, the pathway forward must involve sustained effort to decarbonize transportation.
There are many paths to achieve this vision, but hydrogen and fuel cell technologies are emerging as an increasingly attractive option. Regardless, all levels of government must move beyond a long-term strategy and tease out some near-term tactical actions if they wish to achieve meaningful and lasting change.
Opportunities for the Hydrogen Sector in Canada
In many ways, the hydrogen and fuel cell sector can be considered a sweet spot for Canada; it offers the opportunity for low cost solutions, where decarbonisation is particularly high, and where we have a strong foundation from which we can confidently explore international market opportunities.
One thing we know for certain is that decarbonizing transportation is both a local problem and a global opportunity. Luckily, there are many Canadian companies that are up to the task, such as Hydrogenics, Next Hydrogen, Ballard Power Systems and Enbridge.
For example, Hydrogenics has recently been developing fuel cell power systems for hydrogen commuter trains in Europe. Hydrogen powered FCEV trains and buses are an attractive option for commuters in Canada and around the world. There are numerous benefits to hydrogen and fuel cell commuter solutions, such as zero-emissions, fast fuelling, and no infrastructure investment. There is a significant business case here that we should be pursuing.
For companies and entrepreneurs who are looking to scale their business or take advantage of international opportunities, the Ontario Government offers a suite of supports such as the province’s Small Business Enterprise Centres, Regional Innovation Centres, Early Stage Exporter Fund and recently announced Cleantech Venture Capital Fund.
We have the means of providing hydrogen-based clean energy solutions today, and we believe that this is a solution whose time has come.