Hydrogen will not only supply the rich with energy. The same hydrogen fuel cell that provides power to a house in New York will also supply energy for a hut in a Delhi suburb.
Television has projected a view of Western wealth to the furthest corners of the earth. The experience of that wealth, however, remains reserved for a small elite. Bridging that gap starts with the availability of energy. Many people in developing countries spend their day collecting firewood and cow dung for the fire they use to cook their food. Literally, they need energy in order to release themselves from the grip of poverty. There is, in fact, a direct link between a dearth of energy and high population growth. If no external energy sources are available, people have to supply their own energy needs. The recent development in South Africa following the downfall of apartheid demonstrated that for every 100 households that were hooked up to an electricity grid, 10 to 20 new small businesses were set up.
The conventional method of electrification using power lines often remains too expensive for remote areas in the developing world. The advent of solar panels in particular has changed that. Now, over 1 million homes in developing countries have electricity thanks to solar panels. This is still just a drop in the ocean, but the improvements show enormous potential (see also ‘Seeing the light’, page XX). For the moment, solar energy that is generated during the day is stored in a battery, but this system remains vulnerable and has a limited life span. Soon, the same hydrogen fuel cell that provides power to a house in New York will also supply energy to a hut in a Delhi suburb.
Moreover, energy production will become a decentralised business. In principle, everyone can become a hydrogen producer and thus secure an interesting bit of extra income. Water is everywhere. The oil sheikhs won’t be succeeded by hydrogen sheikhs. Energy will no longer just be for the rich. That alone will not bridge the gap between rich and poor, but the hydrogen economy will lay a foundation for a more balanced and just world.