Eastern promise: The compelling case for green hydrogen in Atlantic Canada
September 08, 2022
September 08, 2022
Does Canada’s east coast have the perfect combination for a successful green hydrogen program? Let’s examine the key ingredients.
I’ve been watching Atlantic Canada lately. The four Canadian provinces that border the Atlantic Ocean—New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island—are each beautiful in their own way. But I haven’t been admiring them because of their fantastic seafood, marine wildlife, or scenic beaches. I’ve had my eye on this region because I believe it contains many of the key ingredients to help us fuel a greener energy future. More specifically, there’s a lot of potential for green hydrogen projects.
Let’s step back a minute. As you may know, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. And since it’s nontoxic, light, and reactive—and doesn’t emit any carbon dioxide upon combustion—it serves as a great energy carrier. Hydrogen will play a vital role in energy infrastructure as communities move away from carbon combustibles to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
There are three types of hydrogen presently being used: grey, blue, and green. For the purposes of this blog, let’s focus on green hydrogen, which is produced using renewable energy such as wind, solar, or hydropower-based electricity. This renewable energy powers the process of electrolysis, which splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. And while it’s currently the most expensive form of hydrogen to produce, it’s also considered the cleanest, as the process doesn’t release carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.
Our team’s research on hydrogen over the past few years has led us to several places around the globe that are favorable for developing green hydrogen projects. And we feel that Atlantic Canada has all the key ingredients. Let’s discuss why.
The first essential ingredient for green hydrogen is an abundance of renewable energy, which comes from natural sources or processes that are continually replenished. Electricity from renewable energy sources—whether hydropower, solar, or wind—can be used to manufacture hydrogen as needed.
Canada’s Atlantic region has one of the fastest-growing clean energy sectors on the continent—the capability for green hydrogen is certainly there. In addition to existing hydropower, the emergence of world class onshore and offshore wind power generation throughout the region is prolific. So, there is plenty of clean power to depend upon.
The Clean Power Roadmap for Atlantic Canada is a recent report developed by federal and provincial governments and their respective utilities, along with support from Quebec. The report provides us with some interesting numbers regarding renewable energy in the region. According to the report, 99% of electricity generated in Prince Edward Island is from renewable sources. Newfoundland and Labrador’s grid is on track to become 98% renewable. The report also states that Nova Scotia is moving toward a renewable electricity standard, with 80% of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2030. And New Brunswick recently exceeded its requirement to serve 40% of electricity sales from renewable sources.
As you can see, the transition toward clean energy production is well underway in Atlantic Canada.
When considering green hydrogen products, you need to think about water and your water strategy. You can talk about innovation and renewable energy all that you want, but you can’t forget the water discussion. Theoretically, you need nine kilograms of fresh water to produce one kilogram of hydrogen.
So, you need massive amounts of fresh water to launch a successful green hydrogen program. Canada has the third-largest renewable fresh water supply in the world. Around 7% of the world’s global supply of fresh water is contained in the country. And Canadians only consume about 1% of that supply annually.
Of course, the access to fresh water in Atlantic Canada is generous. In some places, it’s very accessible. And many areas in the region have relatively low populations. The combination of access to so much fresh water and renewable energy, coupled with a relatively low population makes Atlantic Canada very attractive for green hydrogen production.
This region contains many of the key ingredients to help us fuel a greener energy future.
Finally, let’s consider the geographical location of Canada’s east coast. Look at its proximity to Europe and the large population on the eastern seaboard of the US. From a business perspective, Atlantic Canada is already considered the gateway to the North American and European markets. When it comes to the idea of exporting energy and making economic gains from it, Atlantic Canada is uniquely positioned. It’s also not inconceivable that hydrogen exports from Atlantic Canada can travel to the western US through the Panama Canal.
And here’s something else to ponder: When you combust hydrogen, you’re basically creating the water again. You generate water vapor in that post-combustion reaction. So, when you export hydrogen to Europe, California, or somewhere else on the globe, you can potentially recover water in the post-combustion process. Work is underway to not only provide a zero emission, game-changing combustible fuel but one that’s also a source of fresh water. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re close.
When you fuse all these pieces together, the idea of green hydrogen in Atlantic Canada is very compelling. Of course, there are several elements that need to come together for green hydrogen to flourish. These include the expansion of renewables, changes in the regulatory process, and other factors.
Thankfully, green hydrogen is very modular. You can begin on a small scale. You don’t achieve the cost benefits until you go bigger, but you can start small and grow your projects from there.
By transitioning to hydrogen, the world can achieve a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable future. And I’m optimistic about the green hydrogen opportunities on Canada’s east coast. If the region wants to make their green hydrogen projects happen, I believe they can.