Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2022. Robert Lyman’s bio can be read here.


Recently, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Canada (CESDC) reported to Parliament on the results of its independent audit of the federal government plans with respect to realizing hydrogen’s potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The aspirational view of climate campaigners is that immense amounts of hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis using renewable energy-generated electricity with no emissions. Currently, however, the estimated cost of such generation using wind and solar energy is 17 times the cost of natural gas.

Two departments of the federal government have published different plans and analyses describing the potential of hydrogen, despite its high costs, to meet Canada’s emissions reduction targets. In December 2020, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) published the Hydrogen Strategy for Canada and the same month Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) published an ambitious climate mitigation plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy . The NRCan strategy estimated that hydrogen could reduce Canada’s GHG emissions by between 22 and 45 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) by 2030 and as much as 190 megatonnes by 2050. ECCC, in contrast, expected Canada’s use of hydrogen to reduce GHG emissions by only 15 megatonnes by 2030.

The CESDC audit was highly critical of the analyses done by both departments, noting that they used unrealistic assumptions to model the potential for hydrogen to reduce emissions. In its pathway modelling, ECCC assumed that all existing buyers of natural gas must switch to a 7.3% hydrogen-natural gas blend by 2030. According to analysis presented to NRCan, a more stringent carbon price of at least $500 per tonne would be needed to encourage businesses to adopt blending at that level. ECCC assumed that new electricity transmission lines would be built and operating by 2028 and 2030 to provide “clean electricity” to provinces that now rely on fossil fuel electricity generation. This, of course, would require the expenditure of billions of dollars and agreement among many different stakeholders (including indigenous groups) to secure a right of way.

The CESDC is the federal government’s own in-house auditor. It clearly endorses the federal government’s present climate policies and goals. Yet, its audit of the federal government’s efforts to assess hydrogen’s potential to reduce GHG emissions began as an operational audit of a single program area and ended as a compelling condemnation of two government departments’ modelling and policy development practices.


Hydrogen dangers: