Time running out in ‘green hydrogen race’: Turnbull

Brandon How

Malcolm Turnbull is urging the Albanese government to ramp up its support for renewable hydrogen projects amid concerns that Australia is falling behind in the global race to stand up a competitive export industry.

During a speech to the APAC Offshore Wind and Green Hydrogen Summit on Tuesday, the former Prime Minister said the Hydrogen Headstart production credit program program that will pour $2 billion into two or three projects is a “welcome start”, but the federal government should be backing more projects.

“The opportunity is clear. But, and we cannot repeat this often enough, we need to act with urgency. We have every resource we need in abundance; except one – time. And that is running out,” Mr Turnbull said.

“We are in a green hydrogen race to redesign industrial society in a record time. If we are in a battle to save our planet, we must mobilise our national resources as we would for war, not a languid tea party. Half-measures will not do.”

Malcolm Turnbull

Mr Turnbull is the chair of industry group the Green Hydrogen Organisation (GH2) and the board of Fortescue Energy, the green hydrogen arm of the resources giant.

The Green Hydrogen Organisation was launched by Mr Turnbull and Fortescue executive chair Andrew Forrest in 2021.

Climate Change and Energy minister Chris Bowen addressed the same conference on Wednesday, confirming that he intends to open the Hydrogen Headstart program to applications by the end of the year.

Mr Bowen said increasingly generous green hydrogen subsidies across the world mean “Australia needs to act to stay in the game, and that’s exactly what we intend to do”.

Outside of the Hydrogen Headstart program, the government has committed around $500 million to support the development of hydrogen projects.

Mr Bowen said there were 114 submissions to the Hydrogen Headstart consultation process along with 400 workshop participants.

“We’ve heard clearly the preference for a shorter, sharper Expressions of Interest process – while allowing more time for full applications, to firm up offtake applications and project financing,” Mr Bowen said.

“And I’ve also heard clearly that complex hydrogen projects will need flexibility through the assessment process and over time to manage changes such as production volumes.”

Submissions from industry bodies representing renewable hydrogen stakeholders were conflicted over the threshold production capacity for eligible projects under the Hydrogen Headstart program.

Around US$280 billion is available to hydrogen projects around the world, a 43 per cent increase since the beginning of the year, according to Bloomberg’s hydrogen subsidies tracker.

Mr Turnbull on Tuesday also said further financial support will “for sure” be required in Australia, and called for a “comprehensive response” to the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act, in support for both green hydrogen and the renewable energy sector.

“We also need to see many more than two or three flagship green hydrogen projects being supported, and much more support for hydrogen hubs around the country,” he said.

“We need to keep the momentum up so that these flagship projects can begin production in 2026-27 and take final investment decisions this year.”

Despite Australia having the world’s largest pipeline of hydrogen projects, only 10MW worth of production capacity has reached final investment decision (FID), as of the end of 2022. This contrasts with almost 1400MW in the European Union and 300MW in the United States.

In addition to more financial support, Mr Turnbull said Australian governments’ need to boost their administrative efficiency in granting planning permission.

In May, the South Australian state government released the draft bill for a Hydrogen and Renewable Energy Act to streamline regulatory approval for projects, touted as a world-first.

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