Opinion: We must walk gently with hydrogen in Quebec
Everyone seems to be talking about hydrogen these days, touting its potential economic and climate benefits and presenting it as the key to the energy transition. But we must temper this overflowing enthusiasm because hydrogen is not a miracle solution, far from it.
“Get ready, you’ll hear a lot about it,” Quebec Premier François Legault said while attending COP26 on climate change last fall. Dominique Anglade and the Quebec Liberal Party have made it a cornerstone of their electoral and environmental platform, calling hydrogen a “society project” on a par with James Bay. Sophie Brochu, CEO of Hydro-Québec, also underlined its “extraordinary” potential and did not hesitate to qualify it as our “new dams”.
We are concerned to see how our political leaders give such an important place to hydrogen. For the heightened global interest, which has clearly swept away our own elected officials, is far from trivial.
This sudden hype on how hydrogen will be the energy of the future is above all a game of the fossil fuel industry to continue selling its products (gas, oil, coal) and slow down the transition to renewable energies everywhere in the world. Because, about 95% of the time, these highly harmful fuels are used to produce our “savior” hydrogen.
A Trojan horse from those who have brought us to the brink of climate change.
We must be aware.
A PARTICULAR CASE IN QUEBEC
That said, the story is a little more complex in Quebec, where hydrogen is produced from our precious renewable hydroelectricity. Certainly, the production of this green hydrogen (hydrogen from renewable energies) is a solution that could help us decarbonize certain sectors that are difficult to electrify directly, such as certain industrial processes or air and maritime transport.
We need to 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 rightly point 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 transport or its export to other countries, consuming enormous quantities of hydroelectricity to produce green hydrogen for sectors other than those that are difficult to electrify would not be wise.
Thus, we hope that the new hydrogen strategy for Quebec, to be presented this spring by our Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Jonatan Julien, will be realistic, quantified and will take into account the limits of our hydroelectric production capacity.
Our organizations, Équiterre and the David Suzuki Foundation, submitted a brief during the consultations on this strategy, in order to inform the government of the potential pitfalls that it should avoid in the development of the hydrogen industry in Quebec.
Hopefully, as common sense and science would dictate, we will tread lightly.
Émile Boisseau Bouvier is a climate policy analyst at Équiterre and Charles Bonhomme is a communications and public affairs specialist at the David Suzuki Foundation.