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Green hydrogen: key to the energy transition in Colombia

Green hydrogen is a critical energy vector in emissions mitigation and long-term supply security. Colombia has become a promising benchmark in Latin America as it seeks to become a leader in the sector.

During the celebration of the second Latin American Hydrogen Congress, held in late 2022 in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, the host country was distinguished as one of the economies in the sector within the region with the most potential. “In addition to having a lot of wind and a lot of sunshine, we have a lot of water. There are large-scale hydroelectric plants and we are very, very good in terms of location, since we have access to both oceans,” explains Mónica Gasca, executive director of the Hydrogen Association of Colombia.

Good geographic conditions are combined with the government’s strong commitment to drive the transition to a cleaner and more sustainable economy through the use of renewable energy, including the green hydrogen roadmap. Its goals by 2030 include producing 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of energy, mobilizing $4 billion worth of investments in projects using this alternative, and creating 16,000 direct and indirect jobs in the value chain that are already being worked on today.

 

Major projects underway

Colombia is currently building several green hydrogen production and utilization projects, especially focused on solar radiation and wind currents. In fact, millions have already been invested in order to meet the demand that the European market will have in the future. “One of these projects is the first hydrogen bus in Latin America, which was opened by Ecopetrol with our Bogotá transportation company. This will be a vehicle with about 50 passengers that will be traveling the streets of Bogotá,” the specialist tells us.

Advances are also being made in other industries such as mining, where attempts are being made to replace the fossil fuels used in operations, in power generation, with the use of solar and wind energy in the northern part of the country and, finally, in the field of research and development, where the University of Antioquia is developing technologies to produce, store, and use green hydrogen in different sectors of the economy.

Colombia faces significant challenges, mainly related to reduced regulation, lack of infrastructure and high production costs

Gasca also points out the work of the National Energy Company, which is developing two 60-megawatt (MW) green hydrogen projects in two refineries in the country — Cartagena and Barranquilla — and that of the largest national company in the oil industry, Ecopetrol, which is analyzing how to replace gray hydrogen with green hydrogen within its production processes, as well as other more sustainable business models.

It also explains the importance of exporting this renewable energy, especially for a developing region such as Latin America. In that sense, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) ranked Colombia as the fourth most competitively priced green hydrogen in the world by 2050, according to its roadmap, at $1.1 per kilogram. This figure places the country at the top of the list of leaders in this growing market.

 

Big challenges to be faced

Beyond its potential, Colombia faces significant challenges, mainly related to reduced regulation, lack of infrastructure and high production costs. “The biggest challenge we have is to finalize regulation, as we must meet a roadmap with 60 actions by 2030. That’s why we need to start landing rules in specific sectors such as transportation, housing, or large-scale industrial field. However, it is also key to enable the infrastructure issue, since we say that we want to participate in the international market with exports, but we still don’t even know from which port,” admits Mónica.

However, some actions have already been fulfilled such as the delimitation of the hydrogen taxonomy, which was achieved with the energy transition law of 2021 and the profile of the responsibilities that each ministry has, such as:

    • Transportation: using this power source in vehicles
    • Mines and Energy: use and promotion of this fuel
    • Science: supporting innovation, research, and development programs

The director of the Hydrogen Association believes that Colombia will achieve “compliance with the roadmap because, from the Association, we observe that many companies are working on it and are interested in creating the local and export market.” To that end, they have partnered with the European Union to identify the gaps in domestic demand, achieve the necessary incentives, and create a specific pool of funds to promote and enhance large hydrogen production projects.

“In short, Latin America has many renewable resources to be a leader in this area, especially due to the large amount of water and land available, which Europe lacks. And specifically, Colombia has sufficient advantages to be a regional leader; what we must do is continue working to consolidate ourselves as an exporter of this substance,” the expert concludes.

 

Contributors to this article:

 

Mónica Gasca, Executive Director of the Colombian Hydrogen Association, with more than eight years of experience analyzing and developing regulations and public policy related to renewable energy. Her extensive experience on the subject includes working at the Ministry of Mines and Energy leading the strategies for the country’s Energy Transition.

 

 

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