Opinion: We need to tread lightly with hydrogen in Quebec
Published Thursday, February 3, 2022 4:32PM EST
Everyone seems to be talking about hydrogen these days, touting its potential economic and climate benefits and framing it as key to the energy transition. But we must temper this overwhelming enthusiasm because hydrogen is not a miracle solution, far from it.
“Get ready, you’ll hear a lot about it,” stated Quebec Premier François Legault, when he was at the COP26 climate change conference last fall. Dominique Anglade and the Quebec Liberal Party have made it a cornerstone of their election and environmental platform, calling hydrogen a “social project” on par with James Bay. Sophie Brochu, CEO of Hydro-Quebec, also emphasized its "extraordinary" potential and didn’t hesitate to describe it as our "new dams".
We’re worried to see how our political leaders are giving hydrogen such a prominent place. Because the increased global interest, which has clearly swept up our own elected officials, is far from innocuous.
This sudden hype about how hydrogen will be the energy of the future is first and foremost a play by the fossil fuel industry to keep selling its products (gas, oil, coal) and to slow down the transition to renewable energy all over the world. Because, about 95 per cent of the time, these highly damaging fuels are being used to produce our “saviour” hydrogen.
A Trojan horse from those who have led us to the edge of the climate abyss.
We must be aware.
A PARTICULAR CASE IN QUEBEC
That being said, the story is a bit more complex in Quebec, where hydrogen is produced from our precious renewable hydroelectricity. Admittedly, the production of this green hydrogen (hydrogen made by renewable energy) is a solution that could help us decarbonize some sectors that are difficult to electrify directly, such as some industrial processes or aviation and marine transportation.
We must ensure that hydrogen is used in a very smart and targeted way because hydrogen production requires A LOT of electricity!
At a time when many are rightfully pointing out that the province must reduce its consumption of hydroelectricity in order to conserve this strategic resource for other key projects—such as the electrification of transportation or exporting it to other nations—using up huge quantities of hydroelectricity to produce green hydrogen for sectors other than those that are difficult to electrify would not be wise.
As such, we hope Quebec’s new hydrogen strategy that our Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Jonatan Julien, will be presenting this spring will be realistic, based on numbers, and will consider the limits of our hydroelectricity production capacity.
Our organizations, Équiterre and the David Suzuki Foundation, submitted a brief during the consultations on this strategy, to inform the government of the potential pitfalls that it should avoid in developing the hydrogen industry in Quebec.
Hopefully, as common sense and science would dictate, we will tread lightly.
Émile Boisseau Bouvier is the Climate Policy Analyst at Équiterre and Charles Bonhomme is the Communications and Public Affairs Specialist at David Suzuki Foundation