The Hydrogen Talent Tipping Point 

Boards need to be as innovative as the people they seek to lead on hydrogen-based transition programmes Craig Davidge Jul 18, 2023

The desert of Saudi Arabia may not be the first place that springs to mind when considering where to build the world’s first ‘mega green’ hydrogen plant. But at the end of 2022, many of the final elements for such an ambitious project were put in place to come on stream by 2026.   

Billed as being the world’s ‘largest green hydrogen plant to produce green ammonia at scale’ the plant will be a part of the visionary city of NEOM, being built from the sand up in Tabuk Province.   

Neom Oxagon

NEOM, spearheaded by Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, sits on the Gulf of Aqaba across from the Sinai Peninsula, with its northern boundary near the Jordanian border. Temperatures regularly hit over 40 degrees in this arid landscape – making its future purpose even more remarkable.

Solar and Wind Energy

The plant is also set to use much more abundant elements traditionally associated with Saudi Arabia – sunshine and wind. In fact, NEOM is expected to integrate up to 4 GW of solar and wind energy to produce up to 1.2 million tonnes of green ammonia translating to up to 600 tonnes per day of carbon-free hydrogen.   

Once the plant is operational by 2026, 100% of the green hydrogen produced will be available for global export, in the form of ammonia, through an exclusive long-term agreement with UK-based Air Products.   

To many, this fantasy-like project for hydrogen power could seem like a white elephant, such is the scale and scope of the plan.    

A Poster Child for Global Energy Transition

This is also because, despite its potential and many successful programmes underway, the commercialisation of hydrogen production and wide-spread implementation remains globally unregulated.   

As the ‘poster child’ for the global energy transition programme investment is ‘pouring in’ with Europe and Asia vying for the lead position in what has been dubbed the ‘next space race’.  

Questions remain as hydrogen is often also referred to as the ‘oldest new technology’ because it has been around for hundreds of years and used across industry in myriad ways.

Funding for the Hydrogen Industry

Today estimates for growth of the global green hydrogen industry sit at around $4 billion and could be anywhere from $60 billion to $100 billion by 2030.    

Public funding for hydrogen R&D observed its largest annual increase in 2021, with a 35% increase compared with 2020.    

Hydrogen technologies received around 5% of the total R&D budget for clean energy technologies, with European countries the main contributors to this increase, nearly doubling their expenditure.   

So, the need for leaders who can handle the complex structure of both hydrogen and its markets are vitally needed.   

But, with much of the transition to clean energy, the battle for available talent – those who both understand the technology and how to commercialise it – remains at an inflexion point.   

Which begs the question, if you are not a Saudi prince with the world’s most exciting project to entice next gen leaders to your shores, how can you find the talent required to turn the tide on your energy transition programme?

Creating the talent pipeline 

Cost of production for green Hydrogen, limited value chain, and the need for international standards and regulations on production and use remain a major barrier to making the most of the hydrogen ‘revolution’ in real time. 

One of the most significant, often unreported, outcomes of these barriers, is that individual countries are going it alone. This creates confusion and makes market entrance extremely difficult. 

Hydrogen power generation, of course, is only one part of the clean energy transition but, due to some of the specific areas of contention, the people needed to make it work creates a strong basis for looking at an overall talent strategy. 

What has been proven is that developing hydrogen talent involves a multifaceted approach that involves education, training, and – vitally – hands-on experience in the field.  

Those leading from the front are showing that a specific mix of skills, experience and commercial capability is vital.   

Research shows the following skills are particularly important: 

  1. Linking technology and innovation to financial outcomes 
  2. Being able to create innovative partnerships with longevity  
  3. Understanding how capital spending and the supply chain affect outcomes

Central to your thinking must be an expansive mindset. You must be prepared to look across both industry and geographies, as well as ages and disciplines. 

Simplifying Process and Progress

Whether it is commercialising hydrogen or finding the right talent, progressive companies are proving that simplification of both process and progress supports a successful market strategy.

This also creates a wider understanding of how to establish a global consensus on how the future of the industry can work.

In our recent experience we have seen the talent fit into one or more of the following criteria: 

  1. The Savvy Technologist: the hardest to find but often a pivotal hire, this candidate embraces an engineering and commercial mindset. There is potential here to think laterally and review internal skills sets to create teams that have both elements and retain a cultural fit
  2. The Wise Elder: candidates who achieve specific successes during previous periods of energy and global infrastructure change but have the passion and purpose to focus in on more niche areas of delivery. These people are most likely to be found in existing major energy providers and infrastructure firms   
  3. The Double Agent: looking ahead of the future, candidates will be required to know about both green and blue hydrogen to ensure that evolution of the talent pipeline stays robust and fit-for-purpose 

Time to develop your hydrogen talent pipeline

Given its interconnectivity and our reliance on power to fuel our modern world, the energy transition process is unquestionably set to create the most significant impact on climate change.

The success of hydrogen and other clean energy depends on the people in charge to both deliver and skill up at the same time, at speed.

Lessons can be learned from different industries and having experts across many sector fields mean that we can leverage this to build a robust strategy for success.

We are increasingly witnessing leaders and senior teams cross from one industry to another as the disciplines and specialisms are so transferable.

And, as the innovative changemakers we have been finding for more than 15 years will testify, having an open mind and being willing to look at things in new ways is critical to the success of the major challenge ahead for us all.

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