Europe would be “crazy” to import green hydrogen from places such as Chile and Australia, according to the chief executive of one of the continent’s largest renewable-energy producers, Spain’s Acciona Energía, which recently started up its first green H2 plant.
“The advantage of renewables, and the advantage of green hydrogen, is that it’s local, using autonomous resources — so each country can secure its own low-carbon energy at stable prices for 30 years — it’s crazy to import if you have these resources,” Rafael Mateo tells Recharge.
Mateo points to the recent record-high natural-gas prices in Europe as a reason why continuing to rely on imported fuel would be a mistake.
“Europe is importing €22bn of fossil fuel every month, we are dependent on other countries, such as Russia. So we are in the hands of the third party — and the third party is fixing the price of gas.
“We are suffering from the volatility of [energy] prices because third parties are fixing the prices. The only way of avoiding the volatility is more penetration of renewables — accelerating the deployment of renewables in order to reduce the dependency — and get the stable prices of wind, solar and [green] hydrogen.
“I think if you can have your own energy supply — electricity plus green hydrogen — it doesn’t make sense to import fossil fuels, because when you are importing, you are subject to the volatility of the industry and to the volatility of geopolitics.”
Nevertheless, the European Commission is seeking to import 40GW of H2 from neighbouring regions, such as Ukraine and North Africa, according to its 2020 hydrogen strategy, while Germany has earmarked €350m ($405m) of federal money to support green H2 projects outside the EU with a view to importing the gas they produce.
Renewable hydrogen can be produced at a very low cost in places with strong winds, high solar irradiation and plenty of available land for gigantic wind and solar projects, such as Australia and Chile, which is why densely populated countries such as Germany are seeking to import cheap hydrogen, rather than produce it themselves.
But there are question marks around the high cost of shipping the gas across oceans, with a recent study by German think-tank Agora Energiewende finding that it would be cheaper for Germany to produce its own renewable H2 than import it from faraway nations — although the opposite would be true for hydrogen derivatives such as green ammonia.
Mateo acknowledges that Acciona Energía could produce green hydrogen in its key markets of Spain and Portugal at “very competitive prices” compared to other parts of Europe, where winds and solar irradiation are not as strong.
But he is not yet convinced it would make commercial sense to export that Iberian hydrogen to other European nations, due to the high cost of hydrogen transportation, and it would be more sensible to produce green H2 where it will be used.
The Spaniard tells Recharge that Acciona Energía is in discussions with “no less than ten” potential customers about co-locating green hydrogen plants of around 1MW at their industrial facilities, powered by on-site wind or solar arrays. This would remove the need to transport the H2 over long distances, keeping costs low.
He adds that the company’s own GreenH2Chain blockchain platform — which ensures that hydrogen is produced using 100% renewable energy — means that wind and solar plants do not need to be situated on-site. Wind power from northern Spain could be combined with solar power from southern regions to produce green H2 in Madrid, at the centre of the country.
Acciona Energía sees renewable hydrogen as an important growth sector in the coming years, and has already got a head-start on its competitors, switching on its first green H2 production facility on the Spanish island of Mallorca just before Christmas.
In fact, the Power to Green Hydrogen Mallorca project — a venture led by Acciona Energía and gas distributor Enagás, in partnership with cement maker Cemex and Spanish government agency IDAE — is the first renewable H2 facility in southern Europe to begin operation.
The plant in the municipality of Lloseta is powered by one nearby solar plant (8.5MW) and another 30km away in the town of Petra (5.85MW) — with the renewable nature of the electricity traced by GreenH2Chain.
The H2 from the project will be used for multiple applications on the Mediterranean island, including as a fuel for buses and delivery vans, gas grid injection and producing heat and electricity via fuel cells for commercial and public buildings, including hotels owned by Mallorca-based chain Iberostar.
Acciona Energía is a member of the Renewable Hydrogen Coalition, which promotes the role of green H2 to deliver the EU’s long-term decarbonisation goals.