Japan’s national hydrogen strategy, which was unveiled at the end of 2017, has done nothing to decarbonize the country and must be “fundamentally revised,” with elements of the plan labeled “a complete failure,” “appalling,” and “misguided” in a new Renewable Energy Institute report.
Japan has outlined a vision of a “hydrogen society in which hydrogen is employed in all sectors” while encouraging and subsidizing the use of highly polluting grey H2. “Such a policy must be rectified as quickly as possible,” says the 20-page report, Re-examining Japan’s Hydrogen Strategy: Moving Beyond the ‘Hydrogen Society’ Fantasy.
“The 2017 Basic Hydrogen Strategy is misguided and focuses on the “bad ideas” of using H2-powered fuel cells for passenger cars and combined heat and power in buildings — options where all-electric options such as battery vehicles and heat pumps are very likely to be cheaper to buy and operate.”
Over the last ten years, more than half of the 460 billion yen ($3.2 billion) invested in hydrogen by the Japanese government has gone to fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs), refueling stations, and residential fuel cells. But despite the massive amount of government cash pumped into these areas — sales have been “sluggish.”
Residential fuel cells will only be able to meet one-fifth of the strategy’s sales objective by 2030. Moreover, fuel cell vehicles are considerably less popular; at this rate, they will only reach roughly a quarter of their sales objective by 2030. “The government’s FCV strategy has been a complete failure,” the REI study concludes.
Another issue the REI raises is the country’s attempt to generate power using hydrogen.
“Realizing that its hydrogen strategy, which was primarily focused on [residential fuel cells] and FCVs, had come to a halt, the government switched focus to co-firing and hydrogen and ammonia in existing thermal power plants,” the report says, citing JERA’s plans to co-fire 20% ammonia with 80% coal beginning in 2023.
“The biggest problem here is generating power with ammonia, which has been prioritized in co-firing with coal due to the compatibility of burning velocities.
“Even if ammonia is 20% co-fired at ultra-supercritical coal power plants that boast the highest efficiency, emissions will be twice that of natural gas-fired power. JERA plans to increase the co-firing rate to about 50% by 2030, but that would still exceed natural-gas-fired power emissions.”
In addition, the national strategy prioritizes grey hydrogen derived from unabated fossil fuels. It provides financial assistance to build a large-scale supply chain and high demand for hydrogen before massive quantities of green H2 are commercially available. The REI calls this policy “a huge risk.”
The national hydrogen strategy, according to the report, “emphasizes industrial policy above decarbonization policy; nevertheless, the government should keep in mind that a policy that favors grey hydrogen, which is at odds with decarbonization, will never work, even as an industrial policy.”
According to the report, the Japanese electrolyzer sector has also lagged behind Europe and China in manufacturing capacity and electrolyzer efficiency.
According to the report, the challenges with the national hydrogen plan result from outdated thinking and a reluctance to accept renewable energy.
The REI, funded by Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son, calls this energy plan “skewed,” with “low targets” for renewable energy compared to other industrial nations.
The report adds that solar PV technology was created in Japan. Japanese businesses were among the first to install wind turbines, but “the growth potential was lost owing to the old-fashioned power infrastructure.”
“If Japan does not fundamentally revise its hydrogen strategy, the hydrogen business in Japan may lose its growth potential just like solar and wind did. Therefore, Japan must place its hydrogen strategy in its decarbonization strategy and rectify the idea that any type of hydrogen will do,” it added.
“If Japan changes its strategy and policies, it will be able to play an important role in the global green hydrogen business by leveraging Japanese companies’ experience gained from efforts in building a supply chain. But time is running out.”