How green hydrogen will impact natural gas investors
REPLACING natural gas with "green hydrogen" is often touted as a way to solve "stranded asset" risk for fossil fuel assets such as gas pipelines.
The International Energy Agency believes hydrogen has the "potential to play a key role in a clean, secure and affordable energy future".
As part of a renewable energy transition, some natural gas pipeline and storage infrastructure could be repurposed for hydrogen. The clean fuel could even be blended into natural gas.
But is it really a solution for investors worried about holding "stranded" fossil fuel assets that no longer have an economic use due to redundant technology or high costs?
There is no clear-cut answer right now - and advances are required to make hydrogen technology economical, says Murray Ackman, a credit ESG analyst in Pendal's Income and Fixed Interest team.
Stranded asset risk
"Stranded asset risk is very tangible for fixed income investors when you're looking at a seven- or 10-year bond," says Ackman.
"You have to take a view on what may or may not happen during that time frame.
"Credit ratings, access to financing, cost of funding, demand for the products, regulation - those are the kind of ESG risks that we're looking at."
Some risks are clear cut: "Coal is something that needs to be phased out very quickly, so if you're coal or coal-adjacent like a train company that hauls coal from the mines, there is a clear stranded-asset risk in the short term.
"The cost of funding might become higher and there could be a chance of default or ratings downgrades."
But the risks to natural gas assets - and the potential for hydrogen to be a solution - are more difficult to pin down.
A natural gas replacement
Part of the problem is conflating potential industrial and domestic uses for hydrogen.
"There are some very clear uses for hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas in industrial processes like producing fertiliser, powering heavy vehicles and aircraft or making steel," says Ackman.
"And there's this moon shot that it will be a one-for-one replacement for natural gas," says Ackman.
In that scenario, parts of the natural gas pipeline and storage infrastructure can be repurposed for hydrogen, protecting their value well into the future and saving them from becoming stranded assets.
"This is what industry is betting big on. It's tricky because the economics don't stack up yet - but then that was true for solar panels for a long time too."
For households, the benefits of hydrogen are less clear cut.
Hydrogen can be blended into the natural gas but above about 10 or 20 per cent it can damage some existing pipes.
"And if you go any higher 20 per cent, you need to change household appliances anyway - if you're changing your stove to something that can accept hydrogen, why not just change to electricity?"
The weighing of these different views is an important part of the investment process, says Ackman.
"It's very much a question mark whether it is the solution. In our investable universe, we've got some gas distribution networks.
"The question is 'why are you talking about how good hydrogen is?'
"Is it because you really believe it? Or is it because it's an existential threat and without it you have a potentially stranded asset in the future?"
Author: Murray Ackman, Credit ESG analyst
Funds operated by this manager:Pendal Focus Australian Share Fund, Pendal Global Select Fund - Class R, Pendal Horizon Sustainable Australian Share Fund, Pendal MicroCap Opportunities Fund, Pendal Sustainable Australian Fixed Interest Fund - Class R, Regnan Global Equity Impact Solutions Fund - Class R, Regnan Credit Impact Trust Fund
This information has been prepared by Pendal Fund Services Limited (PFSL) ABN 13 161 249 332, AFSL No 431426 and is current as at December 8, 2021. PFSL is the responsible entity and issuer of units in the Pendal Multi-Asset Target Return Fund (Fund) ARSN: 623 987 968. A product disclosure statement (PDS) is available for the Fund and can be obtained by calling 1300 346 821 or visiting www.pendalgroup.com. The Target Market Determination (TMD) for the Fund is available at www.pendalgroup.com/ddo. You should obtain and consider the PDS and the TMD before deciding whether to acquire, continue to hold or dispose of units in the Fund. An investment in the Fund or any of the funds referred to in this web page is subject to investment risk, including possible delays in repayment of withdrawal proceeds and loss of income and principal invested. This information is for general purposes only, should not be considered as a comprehensive statement on any matter and should not be relied upon as such. It has been prepared without taking into account any recipient's personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of this, recipients should, before acting on this information, consider its appropriateness having regard to their individual objectives, financial situation and needs. This information is not to be regarded as a securities recommendation. The information may contain material provided by third parties, is given in good faith and has been derived from sources believed to be accurate as at its issue date. While such material is published with necessary permission, and while all reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information is complete and correct, to the maximum extent permitted by law neither PFSL nor any company in the Pendal group accepts any responsibility or liability for the accuracy or completeness of this information. Performance figures are calculated in accordance with the Financial Services Council (FSC) standards. Performance data (post-fee) assumes reinvestment of distributions and is calculated using exit prices, net of management costs. Performance data (pre-fee) is calculated by adding back management costs to the post-fee performance. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any projections are predictive only and should not be relied upon when making an investment decision or recommendation. Whilst we have used every effort to ensure that the assumptions on which the projections are based are reasonable, the projections may be based on incorrect assumptions or may not take into account known or unknown risks and uncertainties. The actual results may differ materially from these projections. For more information, please call Customer Relations on 1300 346 821 8am to 6pm (Sydney time) or visit our website www.pendalgroup.com