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BIPR | Johns Hopkins SAIS Global Risk Conference - Hydrogen. A Zero Carbon Energy Vector Whose Time Has Come
Johns Hopkins SAIS Global Risk Conference - Hydrogen. A Zero Carbon Energy Vector Whose Time Has Come

April 23, 2020 - 18:30

Marco Dell'Aquila - Christopher Jackson - Patrick Molloy - Markus Wilthaner

Event Recap

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. It has been used in industrial processes for decades, but has yet to see widespread adoption as a method for decarbonizing our energy systems. As the cost of producing so-called ‘green’ hydrogen (in which a renewable energy source separates hydrogen from water through electrolysis) decreases, it will become a viable complement to renewables. In this installment of the Johns Hopkins SAIS Global Risk Conference, a panel of four energy experts chaired by Professor Marco Dell'Aquila, explained the advantages of hydrogen and how it can play an important role in the transition to a zero carbon economy.

To open the discussion, Professor Dell'Aquila posed the question: why has there been renewed interest lately in hydrogen from policymakers and clean energy experts? The answer, the panel agreed, is a combination of public policy and economics. First, many governments are getting serious about decarbonization. So far, nearly 70 countries have committed to net-zero emissions in the future, and achieving that outcome will not be possible without hydrogen. At the same time, governments (including the U.S., China and South Korea) have included hydrogen in their industrial policies in anticipation of the next wave of strategic energy technologies. Second, the cost of producing electricity via renewables continues to fall. Those cost-savings will eventually render green hydrogen more competitive at scale for applications in energy storage and decarbonization.

Once green hydrogen becomes cheaper and more abundant, it will have the potential to transform several energy-intensive industries. Its impact will be most visible as a fuel in transportation because of its advantages in weight, range and duration of refueling. In the personal mobility sector, several automakers are developing hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles as an alternative to battery electric vehicles. In the commercial mobility sector, hydrogen-fueled trucks, planes and cargo ships could one day enable companies to drastically reduce shipping costs. But as with all new technologies, establishing the infrastructure required to produce or use green hydrogen at scale would require first-movers to take considerable risks. So what incentives are there for industry to transition and how can government facilitate the shift? On the business side, hydrogen is a proven, low-cost decarbonization method. It is in the long-term interest of firms to begin lowering their future exposure to the carbon content of their goods, especially as more governments introduce carbon taxes. In the meantime, governments should provide clear regulatory guidance and lift potential roadblocks to adoption, e.g., state-aid laws in the EU.

Full Audio:

Johns Hopkins SAIS Global Risk Conference - Hydrogen. A Zero Carbon Energy Vector Whose Time Has Come
Johns Hopkins SAIS Global Risks Conference

The conference has been made possible with the generous support of Mr. James K. Anderson, SAIS Europe Alumnus and Advisory Council member, and Johns Hopkins University Trustee.
hosted by Professor Marco Dell'Aquila

Marco Dell'Aquila
Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe; inspiratia, UK
Christopher Jackson
Protium Green Solutions, UK
Patrick Molloy
Rocky Mountain Institute, US
Markus Wilthaner
McKinsey & Company, UK


Marco Dell'Aquila is Senior Adjunct Professor of Energy, Resources and Environment at the Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe and Founder and Chairman of Power Capital in London. Dell'Aquila has spent 30 years in the energy sector, of which the last 18 years in renewables and cleantech. He co-founded and is Chairman of inspiratia - a global analytics and data company focusing on renewables and infrastructure sectors. He also founded Power Capital, a pioneering financial and strategic advisory firm focused on renewables. He has served on a number of start-up company boards and in 1997 co-founded IJGlobal, an information services company covering energy and infrastructure. Dell'Aquila has taught at SAIS since 2011 and is a member of the SAIS Europe Advisory Council. He was a Fellow of the Institute of Latin America Studies in the late 1980s. Dell'Aquila has a BSc (Tech) in Civil and Structural Engineering from the University of Manchester and an MA in International Relations and Economics from Johns Hopkins University SAIS.


Christopher Jackson is CEO of Protium, a UK focused hydrogen and fuel cell project developer. Until April 2020 he was the lead hydrogen consultant for the World Bank and secured the Bank's first internal funding for hydrogen in over a decade. He is a committed believer in the value proposition of hydrogen to transform the global energy system, and has previous industry experience in insurance, venture capital, renewable energy development and consulting. He holds a master's degree focused on Energy, Resources and the Environment and International Economics from Johns Hopkins University SAIS.


Patrick Molloy works with the Industry and Heavy Transport program at Rocky Mountain Institute. In this role, Patrick has developed expertise in mining at materials sectors, leading work around closed site utilization. Additionally, Molloy drives work around hydrogen applications in the Industry and Heavy Transport space, and in the maritime shipping sector, where he supported the drafting of the Poseidon Principles. Previously he worked as part of the Business Renewables Center (now REBA) on corporate PPA structuring and procurement. He holds a master's degree in International Economics and International Relations from Johns Hopkins University SAIS, as well as an MEconSc in European Economic and Public Affairs and a BA in Politics & History from the University College Dublin.


Markus Wilthaner is Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company. He is specialized in battery, hydrogen, and fuel cells and helps clients shape and create value from unprecedented shifts in the energy and mobility transition. He co-leads the hydrogen and battery teams at the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility and has worked in Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East. He holds a master's degree from Johns Hopkins SAIS and TU Vienna University of Technology.
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