While renewables and hydrogen are all the rage, these year’s events have clearly highlighted that natural gas – despite much wishing by the green lobby – isn’t going anywhere soon.

Years of underinvestment in securing new supplies of gas (and oil), low stockpiles and colder weather have all combined to drive gas prices in Europe and Asia up to record levels.

It also highlighted that while renewable energy now plays a major role in the energy picture of more advanced economies, its inability to provide base load power and the immaturity of energy storage meant that fossil fuels still had a role to play.

And as much as environmentalists would like otherwise, the same is likely to be true in the near-term, particularly for natural gas. Here’s why.

Renewables are displacing coal first

To date, the gains that renewables have made globally have largely been at that expense of coal.

After all, coal has been in use longer than gas has been for power generation, which translates into older facilities that are easier for utilities to shutter in favour of solar and wind.

Coals’ notoriety as the single largest contributor to man-made emissions and higher emissions pound for pound compared to natural gas — as well as the falling costs of renewables (especially solar) — just makes that decision all the easier.

However as noted previously, the ability of energy storage to take over base load requirements currently met by fossil fuels remain inadequate to say the least.

Questions have also been raised about whether there is enough lithium to meet the increased production of batteries to meet this demand.

Hydrogen starting to heat up

This deficit could well be met by the growing drive to adopt hydrogen, which could well meet the growing demand for more energy storage.

After all, green hydrogen is produced by using renewable energy to power electrolysers that crack water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.

The resulting hydrogen can then be burnt directly or used in fuel cells for heating or electricity generation, which essentially makes it way of storing excess renewable energy.

In Australia, expect to see further pushes to make hydrogen the next big export commodity to replace coal and natural gas.

Not surprising given government forecasts there’s some $185bn in major Australian hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, and ammonia projects in the pipeline while Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Future Industries continues to drive headlong into producing hydrogen on a commercial scale.