Japanese conglomerate Marubeni now has more than 100 years of innovation to look back on. Moroo Shino, President and CEO of Marubeni Asian Power, says that as a large independent power producer it has a social responsibility to facilitate the energy transition and the development of new technology solutions such as hydrogen.
What sort of energy infrastructure investments do you think we need to achieve net-zero carbon emissions?
We see two broad categories of investments that will accelerate society’s shift from fossil fuels to emissions-friendly, sustainable power. The first category is to increase investments of proven technologies that support the energy transition, such as more investments in solar, wind and energy-storage projects. This will help shift the world’s power generation fuel mix from fossil fuels to more emissions-friendly sources. The second category is to increase investments in developing and rolling out new technologies and initiatives that can potentially address the current challenges – such as finding a solution for baseload power. This could take the form of committing more R&D in hydrogen technology and infrastructure.
Have you committed to any portfolio changes to contribute to the energy transition?
We have committed to doubling the proportion of renewable generation in our portfolio to 20% by 2023. To achieve this, we built and now operate the Sweihan Independent Power Project in the UAE, which was the world’s largest solar PV power project when it went onstream in 2019, covering a total area of 7.8km². In 2020, we commissioned the Changhua 180MW project in Taiwan – at the time the largest floating solar PV project in the world – and we have also started construction on Akita Noshiro Offshore Windfarm, which is Japan’s first large-scale offshore windfarm.
We have also made the firm decision to halve the coal-fired generation capacity in our portfolio by 2030, and to stop developing coal-fired generation. To date, there is no viable large-scale alternative to the baseload power offered by thermal power plants. This is one of the challenges of the energy transition, but for now it would appear that relatively low-carbon gas-fired power is the best compromise between decreasing carbon emissions and meeting society’s needs with economical, reliable power.
Are you investing in hydrogen technology as a potential solution to decarbonising baseload power?
Marubeni is always looking to future trends and innovation in the energy market, and we see real potential for hydrogen as an energy fuel source – for power generation, transportation or in other sectors. In particular, we see green hydrogen, which is produced using clean renewable energy, as ideal for the energy transition because its production and consumption does not generate carbon dioxide emissions.
The immediate challenge is to produce sufficient hydrogen at scale and economically in order to be competitive with existing baseload power solutions, especially fossil-fuelled power plants. Because hydrogen can be stored – either as pure hydrogen or an intermediate form such as ammonia – it has the potential to address the need for baseload power when other intermittent power-generation sources such as solar and wind are not available.But there is a lot of work to do to make this technology financially viable and scalable globally. Marubeni is in the process of implementing several pilot projects in which we hope to develop and prove the feasibility of the hydrogen supply chain.
Can you tell us more about those hydrogen pilots and their commercial potential?
In 2019, Marubeni, in consortium with others, developed a zero-carbon building concept in which hydrogen is produced by electrolysis from solar power, and stored in a hydrogen fuel cell that will be converted to power as required.
Marubeni as the lead developer brought together Toshiba, Tohuku University in Japan, and Singapore’s government-owned electricity and gas distribution company SP Group, and worked with the parties to finalise the commercial arrangements. The motivation was to see whether this project would support a proof-of-concept of this technology and also serve as a pilot for potential large-scale implementation.The hydrogen supply chain has yet to be proven on a commercial scale. We hope these pilot projects will prove the large-scale potential for application of these technologies so that they will make commercial sense and provide a definitive path towards a zero-carbon future.
Do you think governments should use their spending power to accelerate the energy transition by incentivising new infrastructure and technology – and green hydrogen specifically?
Given the relatively nascent phase of development of green hydrogen technology and infrastructure, and the growing urgency of transitioning the world’s energy sources, we do believe that governments will have an important role to play to supporting the adoption of green hydrogen. Government support could be provided by way of financial grants, incentives and R&D funding, and in non-financial ways such as policy-making. For example, Marubeni is in the process of accessing Australia’s least expensive renewable energy to produce green hydrogen and hopefully we will obtain government support when appropriate.
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