The asset class is not ready for hydrogen, investors say

Hydrogen generation technologies have a role in the energy transition, but are ‘too expensive and too difficult’ to join infrastructure portfolios, LPs and GPs say.

Hydrogen is not the silver bullet for climate change – that is the consensus among LPs and GPs at last week’s Infrastructure Investor London Forum.

Hydrogen generation technologies “are too expensive and too difficult” for Nykredit Asset Management to invest in, said Ulla Frimor Agesen, the €44 billion Danish investment bank’s head of alternative investments and manager selection.

Swiss Re’s head of infrastructure finance Nitesh Mistry said: “In terms of the energy transition, we’re monitoring hydrogen, but it’s still too early for us to invest. It’s not there yet in terms of internal risk profile. We see it as an equity play. It would need to evolve to enable us to get comfortable with that sector.”

CBRE Investment Management is not ready to add hydrogen to its infrastructure strategy, either. Mariana Barrientos, a director at the firm, said: “The two problems [with hydrogen] are economics and efficiency. We have not found a way to scale hydrogen.”

While Barrientos acknowledged that the cost of hydrogen production is falling, she added: “Efficiency is another battle. Hydrogen needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case, geography-by-geography and use-by-use basis for us to be able to invest.”

It is not just a matter of time before CBRE explores hydrogen: Barrientos also questioned the size of hydrogen’s role in the energy transition. “To pretend that hydrogen is the be-all and end-all for all our problems is not the right way to approach this. It is one of a handful of tools we have to reach net zero by 2050.”

Green hydrogen – produced using renewable or low-carbon power – could play a role in decarbonising heavy industrial sectors that rely on grey hydrogen such as oil refining, chemical production and steel production, said Barrientos. “We need to prioritise this decarbonisation.”

The “second stage” of scaling green hydrogen would be to use it to decarbonise other sectors such as heating, cold storage and long haul, heavy duty transportation, said Barrientos. “But we need large-scale deployment of renewables and of low-carbon technology in order to benefit from low-carbon hydrogen.”

Gabriel de Lastours, MENA regional head for energy at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, echoed her thoughts. “There are a number of constraints, including finding a market. Finding long-term uptake of green hydrogen is very difficult.”

Heavy industrial sectors that use hydrogen are “the low-hanging fruit… because they don’t need to change the way they work”. But the technological operations of transport, for example, would need to be radically overhauled to create a market for green hydrogen in transportation, de Lastours said.

For more on hydrogen as an infrastructure investment opportunity, revisit our May Deep Dive on the sector.

This story first appeared in affiliate title New Private Markets