To make Europe’s energy independent from Russian supplies, German utility Uniper has decided to resume planning for a ‘hydrogen-ready’ terminal for liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Germany, while parent Fortum will apply for an extension to the operating lifetime of a nuclear power plant in Finland, Fortum chief executive Markus Rauramo said.
The decision came after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday announced Germany would rapidly build two LNG terminals, one of them possibly at the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven, to become less dependent of Russian gas, which currently accounts for more than half of the country's consumption.
Uniper only last year had mothballed plans for an LNG terminal at Wilhelmshaven on cost grounds, and said it would instead turn the port into a hub for climate-friendly hydrogen, including an import terminal for green ammonia and a 410MW electrolyser for the production of green hydrogen.
But the company and Fortum seem to have changed its mind again in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and the linked Russian threat to energy security.
“Amongst all the uncertainty, one thing is absolutely clear: Europe’s urgent need for an energy transition,” Fortum CEO Rauramo said in a statement Thursday.
“The current developments have also added a new variable to the equation of sustainability, affordability and security of supply, which is independence.”
Fortum is actively supporting this through investments into clean power, gas and flexibility, he added.
“This morning’s [Thursday’s] announcement on our decision to apply for an extension to the lifetime of our Loviisa nuclear power plant in Finland, Uniper’s recently increased LNG imports and decision to resume planning of a hydrogen-ready LNG-terminal in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, are examples of our commitment.”
Fortum is in continuous discussions with the Finnish and German governments on how it can support security of supply in a decarbonising Europe, he added.
It is not entirely clear yet, how Uniper may reconcile the concepts of an LNG terminal with that of a green ammonia terminal. Theoretically, the company could build both at the same site, or build an LNG terminal that will later be repurposed for green ammonia imports.
“We are verifying that, and continue to develop both projects,” a Uniper spokesman told Recharge.
“How we will bring this together, is being evaluated.”
Uniper's plans for Wilhelmshaven are independent of a project by Belgium's Tree Energy Solutions (TES) to to import renewable hydrogen into Germany in the form of green methane at the same port.
German economics and climate minister Robert Habeck had said his ministry is considering financial support for the LNG terminals, but they must also be ready to import green hydrogen.
Habeck’s ministry earlier this week had also sent draft proposals to other ministries to change the country’s renewables legislation in order to source almost all its power from green sources by 2035, which would mean a dramatic increase in wind and solar additions per year.
The new German government had already planned the faster energy decision previously, but now next to the climate also argues with security of supply and the need to lessen its dependence from Russian fossil energies as reasons to speed up the energy transition.
Fortum at the same time said it has stopped all new investment projects in Russia until further notice and will reduce its thermal exposure in the country. Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas this week had already said it will stop any new commercial activity in Russia, but still fulfil contractual obligations with Fortum and its Russian partners for a gigawatt-scale Russian pipeline of wind power projects.
Together with Uniper, Fortum has also 12 fossil power plants in Russia with a combined generation capacity of 15.5GW, and heat production capacity of 10.2GW. Its Russian generating assets and the exposure (via Uniper) to the now idled Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany carry a book value of about €5.5bn ($6.1bn).
Due to its massive exposure to Russia and Nord Stream 2, Uniper shares plunged by 12.66% to €17.91 per share in early morning trading at the Frankfurt stock exchange, and have almost halved in value this week. Fortum shares fell by 3.52% to €15.44 in Helsinki in early morning trading today.