Training Trades for the Hydrogen Economy

Hydrogen is already in use in the petroleum and fertiliser industries so, what is all the buzz about hydrogen? The excitement is the potential to produce hydrogen via renewable energy sources, such as solar, and wind and utilise this source to power hydrogen cell vehicles, replace natural gas and generate electricity. While some of these applications may be some time away, we need to start planning and developing for the training and skills required to power the hydrogen economy. 

Swinburne University recently undertook an analysis of the skills and training that will be required moving to a hydrogen economy. As hydrogen production reduces in cost and becomes greener, it is anticipated that there will be an increased commitment from both industry and end consumers to move towards hydrogen. Also, with Australia’s abundant sunlight and well-developed port structure we could also become an international powerhouse exporting “green” hydrogen to the world. 

By 2030, according to Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy, plans are in place targeting 10% gas blending throughout the respective state networks1. In the coming decades, this is anticipated to increase to 100%, particularly when we can power the electrolysis process to generate hydrogen via solar and wind alone. Due to the adaptability of the current skills of those trades associated with this field such as gas workers, electricians, and fabricators, the complete change to hydrogen should be well supported for those in this industry.  

Outside of the gas industry, it is anticipated in the hydrogen economy that gas and electrical skills will overlap more. Interesting to note is that Australian Standard AS/NZS 56901 defines fuel cells and electrolysers as gas appliances, yet both require electrical skills. An example to follow is LAVO currently testing in Gippsland. This system takes solar energy, that is unused and would have been fed back into the grid, to power an electrolyser to create hydrogen gas which is stored. When electricity is required, when solar is unavailable, the hydrogen gas is processed through a fuel cell into electricity. A gas fitter was used to install and connect the water and gas components, and an electrician or electrical engineer tested and commissioned it.  

It is anticipated that with this cross over, electricians who have further qualifications in instrumentation and control, high voltage training, or experience and knowledge of fuel cells will be able to build upon their current skills to be part of the hydrogen workforce. Electrical workers with these transferrable skills will be in high demand and more readily able to transition than gas workers. 

The report anticipates that heavy vehicles will be one of the first industries to transition to hydrogen. While diesel mechanics and drivers will be required for some time yet, they are the group most likely to require urgent training and there will be more demand for mechanics with electrical experience. Opportunities for upskilling to convert existing diesel vehicles to fuel cell hydrogen vehicles (FCVH) have been identified, as currently most new fuel cell trucks and coaches are custom built. 

Of course, this presents the challenge to upskill trainers before any training can be undertaken by the workforce. 

While hydrogen will not be available tomorrow, the technology is moving rapidly. We need to put in place the appropriate infrastructure, together with the training, to ensure we have the skills to fully pursue a green hydrogen economy of the future. 

For more information refer Swinburne Hydrogen Roadmap 

1 Swinburne University of Technology – Victorian Hydrogen Hub 2022 Hydrogen Skills Roadmap, pg16