The offshore wind industry welcomed the approval of a national hydrogen strategy by Germany’s cabinet today as a means to build up a European market for green hydrogen, but also insisted that the green gas must be produced from additional production capacities at sea.

The strategy sets the course for a further decarbonisation of industry and the transport sector, said Gunnar Groebler, head of the wind business area at Vattenfall, a major developer and operator of offshore wind.

“A market for European green hydrogen can now develop, but this must be flanked by the further expansion of renewable energies. Only green electrons from renewables supply this green hydrogen,” Groebler said.

“It is also an important and correct signal from the federal government that Germany is relying on sustainable growth and new technologies to overcome the corona crisis.”

For the wider offshore wind sector, the German federation of offshore wind farm operators (BWO) stressed that the €7bn ($8bn) earmarked for a ramp-up of hydrogen technologies in Germany is the right path to build up a strong domestic market.

But BWO managing director Stefan Thimm adds: “It is important that the power intended for the generation of green hydrogen is tendered in addition to the 20GW offshore wind energy that has already been decided by 2030. Otherwise we won nothing in the end.”

Germany’s offshore wind sector had lobbied Berlin hard and long for raising its 2030 offshore wind target to 20GW (instead of 15GW planned before), and wants that volume for electricity generation, while for hydrogen production from wind at sea additional capacities should be built up.

Thimm also stressed that the regulatory framework is still unclear for the grid links of offshore wind farms outside Germany that would produce hydrogen for consumption in Europe’s largest economy as the national strategy stipulates.

“As a sector, we are happy to offer the Federal Government our support in the specific design of corresponding regulations,” he said.

TSO warning and pilot plants

Grid operator 50Hertz said building up a domestic hydrogen production based on renewable power is a great chance to advance decarbonising the economy. The TSO’s chairman, Stefan Kapferer, pointed to substantial expansion potentials for wind power on land and at sea that could be tapped into for that.

But Kapferer also cautioned: “But of course, in Germany we are reaching the limits of acceptance both when expanding renewables and when expanding electricity grids. This has to be considered in all planning.”

50Hertz is providing the grid access for offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea. The TSO also will participate in three so-called ‘real laboratories for the Energiewende (energy transition)’ to foster the build-up of a hydrogen economy.

Among them is a project called “GreenHydroChem” to build up 100MW in electrolyser capacity to supply a refinery in Leuna, Eastern Germany, with green hydrogen, and a 10MW pilot storage plant called “Scharze Pumpe” (‘black pump’) to provide ancillary services for the electric grid.

No euphoria

Germany’s mechanical engineering industry federation VDMA welcomed the hydrogen strategy as being on the right path, but VDMA energy policy spokesman Matthias Zelinger says there is “no reason for euphoria” as the foreseen ramp-up of green hydrogen production capacity is too slow.

The foreseen capacity of 5GW of electrolyser capacity for green hydrogen by 2030, and another 5GW by 2035 or 2040, shows little ambition, the federation says, adding that German industry already today could provide 1GW in green hydrogen production capacity per year.

The renewable energy federation (BEE) welcomed that Berlin mostly bets on green hydrogen (produced via electrolysis from renewables). But instead of also considering large-scale imports of hydrogen, Germany should first explore its own existing potential in the domestic market and start the ramp-up of electrolyser technologies (which the government plans to do in parallel to imports).

“A hydrogen strategy therefore should be combined with a significantly higher expansion of renewable energies,” said BEE president Simone Peter.

As a first step, renewable power plants that would lose their support in coming years (which was granted for 20 years in the wake of the Renewable Energies Act (EEG) that kicked in in 2001) should be allowed to continue producing power – put for the production of hydrogen instead of feeding into the grid.

“If these existing plants are taken into account, green hydrogen can be produced on a large scale at the beginning of 2021. Simply pool the systems and get started,” Peter suggested.

The BEE demanded to free green hydrogen production from paying a levy to finance renewables (EEG surcharge), a measure the cabinet is actually considering, as well as from grid fees.