Global growth is in a healthy place, investors are considering so-called risk markets, and trading conditions are improving at the beginning of 2018. In a nutshell, the global economy is looking much rosier as the new year gets underway.

That seems to be the broad rhetoric right now, though more than a few are cautious where this apparent positivity is concerned. The world economy is understood to be enjoying its biggest period of concerted growth since 2010, with all the major economies firing at the same time; yet some believe this is the period of plain sailing before the choppy waters swell all around, fearing a potentially imminent crash in financial markets.

All of which is in focus at this week’s annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

By providing a global platform for public-private collaboration, the WEF seeks to advance this goal by working with governments, businesses and civil society organisations to find new ways of tackling the systemic risks that affect us all. Its annual gathering in Davos aims to focus minds on the need for systems thinking and new ways of collaborating globally, involving all stakeholders, the precursor for which is the WEF Global Risks Report that fosters much of this debate.

This year’s report, in its own words, ‘grapples with some of the most pressing challenges that we face’. Whilst it is perhaps geopolitical issues or economic indicators that grab the largest share of headlines emanating from the event itself, it’s interesting to note that the 2018 report puts a firm spotlight on the environment – with The Great Energy Transformation on this agenda.

It questions, how can leaders move beyond political hurdles to create a clean, affordable and secure energy future?

This is of course a hot topic within our own industry, as gasworld will explore at its Europe Conference 2018 this April in Amsterdam. In a first for gasworld conferences, the event will be devoted to the clean energy transition and two particular pillars of this: The Hydrogen (H2) Economy and Distributive LNG.

gasworld confirms progressive agenda for Europe Conference 2018

Day one of the event will solely cover the H2 Economy, exploring the state of play, the evolving definition of a H2 Economy and future requirements – and with good reason. The hydrogen economy has experienced huge strides forward in the last decade, with its credentials essentially proven and hydrogen vehicles already taking to roads in regions with the most advanced fuelling networks.

In fact, a feature from a freelance colleague in September 2009 springs to mind, which he almost cynically titled The Hydrogen Economy – Chasing the Impossible Dream? Today, I think there is little doubt that this dream is both viable and much closer to being realised.

Clean and green hydrogen

And yet there is still so much to achieve – and the very definition of a hydrogen economy is evolving all the time. In 2018, the notion of a hydrogen economy means much more than mobility; it’s about an all-encompassing supply chain, potentially serving multiple industries, and based upon truly ‘green’ hydrogen. We’ll learn more about this from a veritable who’s-who of stakeholders in the hydrogen business in Amsterdam – so if you’re reading this far, then there’s a strong chance this is important to you and you need to be there for the event.

But I also can’t help thinking there’s more to be achieved in terms of the rhetoric, and the public (and even private) perception of hydrogen energy; you might argue there’s something of a PR battle to be won here if we are to truly achieve that great energy transformation.

“Today, I think there is little doubt that this dream is both viable and much closer to being realised…”

Some have long harboured concerns that hydrogen was losing out in the alternative energies PR war. I must admit that I have for some time been very mindful of the uphill challenge we face in converting or replacing the 8,000 conventional fossil fuel forecourts in the UK alone, for example. I’m still a little quizzical whether an ‘Average Joe’ like myself will really be able to afford a Toyota Mirai (however heavily subsidised) anytime soon.

Part of the problem is the public perception, or lack of, when it comes to hydrogen as an energy medium. We’re firmly moving beyond the chicken and egg conundrum that dogged hydrogen mobility for so long. From a technology and supply chain point of view, the feasibility is there. Seeing is believing, and I’ve seen truly green hydrogen supply technologies up close and personal for myself. I’ve driven one of the hydrogen-fuelled vehicles of tomorrow.

But where is the mass message about this transformation? Where is the hydrogen case being fought and won in the public? Where is the required funding to make it happen?

I’m not advocating that we should pitch hydrogen against any of its other alternative energy counterparts; only a diverse and carefully balanced mix of vectors will truly realise a clean, affordable and secure energy future. But there appears to be a clear and well communicated plan for electric vehicles, here in the UK at least, and we need the same or more in place for hydrogen mobility if we are to really secure our energy future.

After all, the hydrogen economy is nothing new – it has been invested in and debated for 20 years or more – but it is changing and advancing at a great rate and it is one of the most pressing challenges we face.

Bring on Amsterdam.