Norway and Germany today (Thursday) unveiled plans to build a pipeline between the two countries to supply Europe’s largest economy with hydrogen – initially the blue variety made from fossil gas linked to carbon storage and later green H2 made using power from adjacent North Sea offshore wind farms.

Oil giant Equinor, which is 67% owned by the Norwegian state, simultaneously announced plans to pump an initial 2GW of blue H2 through the pipeline to Germany by 2030, and up to 10GW by 2038, as part of a new strategic partnership with German utility RWE.

The two companies will also collaborate on building 3GW of ‘hydrogen-ready’ gas-fired power plants in Germany by 2030, which will use blue H2 purchased from Equinor by RWE, as well as offshore wind-powered green hydrogen projects in Norway.

Robert Habeck, German climate minister and vice chancellor, at a joint press conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Store pointed to the role of hydrogen in reaching German climate goals once the country has reached a green power share of 80% by 2030.

"The remaining gaps we will fill with hydrogen. This is a plan that is ambitious, but this visit to Norway shows clearly it can be achieved," Habeck said.

Store stressed he had discussed "the green hydrogen option, which will come from offshore wind and on land wind.

"But in the transition time, I think also there is an important opportunity for producing blue hydrogen coming from gas, where we capture and store the CO2 in a safe way."

While Habeck's Green Party was previously highly sceptical about blue hydrogen, the minister now says the technology is needed to fill a gap and ramp up a decarbonised industry in a short period of time.

As long as we have no other alternative, we can't just 'wait and see' any longer.

"As long as we have no other alternative, we can't just 'wait and see' any longer. If you ask me, I'd rather put CO2 in the ground [via carbon storage] than in the atmosphere."

Habeck added that the planned hydrogen pipeline should at first carry blue hydrogen from Norwegian gas fields to Germany, but also pass by the platforms of future offshore wind farms in the North Sea "where green hydrogen will be produced over the next decade, using the same pipeline".

Developing a hydrogen value chain with a major emphasis on offshore wind, and CCS, two or three years ago "would have been really quite science fiction-like," Store said.

"But as somebody said, 'if it isn't science fiction, it isn't real in these times'."

'Environmental and climate integrity'

The Norwegian and German governments in a statement stressed that the countries “will ensure environmental and climate integrity by establishing the highest possible standards for carbon capture and storage.

“Both countries aim at scaling up the production of renewable energy quickly, a prerequisite for production of green hydrogen. Green hydrogen can subsequently be phased in into the common transport infrastructure.”

Due to stringent national regulations, Norway has the lowest upstream methane emissions in the world, which means it is technically able to produce blue hydrogen with very low levels of greenhouse gas emissions, although some CO2 will still be emitted in the production process.

The statement added that a joint feasibility study will be conducted by Norwegian state-owned gas distributor Gassco and the German Energy Agency “to assess large-scale transport of hydrogen from Norway to Germany, and CO2 transport from Germany to Norway”, with the results to be presented in the spring of 2023.

RWE and Equinor’s “hydrogen-ready” gas-fired peaker plants will initially use 100% natural gas supplied by the Norwegian company, which will later be replaced by blue and eventually green H2, the partners explained.

“As offshore hydrogen production plants get connected over time, green hydrogen will gradually complement and ultimately replace its blue counterpart in imports to Germany,” they said. “Green hydrogen from RWE’s and Equinor’s joint projects will fire the joint CCGT [combined-cycle gas turbine] fleet to complete its decarbonisation journey.

It is yet unclear, how hydrogen as a fuel in power plants can be economically viable. Hydrogen so far is expensive and inefficient to burn in a turbine for power compared to natural gas, as it has a lower energy density by volume.

For the massive infrastructure and projects under a memorandum of Understanding now signed to become commercially viable, appropriate regulatory support mechanisms will be required, Equinor said.

“In addition, RWE and Equinor will continue to explore joint investments in offshore-wind-only projects in Norway and Germany as well as green hydrogen production in Norway," the companies added.

It is unclear how fast large wind farms can be built in the North Sea that do not only meet the two countries electricity needs, but also for hydrogen production at sea, but Norway with its long coastline and a population of only 5.5 million may have more scope to convert offshore wind power into green hydrogen.

The Nordic country aims to reach an offshore wind capacity of 30GW by 2040, up from less than 100MW now, and has said it sees it as a future major energy export product.

Germany by contrast needs to keep up with the rapidly rising power thirst of its 84 million people, and may need most of the wind energy produced off its coast for electricity. The country targets to boost its offshore wind capacity from a current 7.8GW to 30GW by 2030, 40GW by 2035, and 70GW by 2045.

Germany and Norway also announced this morning that they have agreed to enter a strategic partnership on other climate-related matters, including renewable energy and offshore wind, CCS, batteries, green shipping, raw materials and related strategic value chains, and the microelectronics required for many green technologies.

UPDATED with background on Norway and Germany's offshore wind targets