Europe would need 300-800TWh of renewable energy per year to produce all the green hydrogen it will need by 2050 — the equivalent of 95-254GW of dedicated offshore wind farms — according to the continent’s two transmission system operator (TSO) organisations.

Preliminary calculations by ENTSO-E and ENTSOG (the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity and Gas, respectively) show that the demand for clean hydrogen would require “in the order of 300-800TWh of renewables feeding into electrolysers by 2050”.

“In a sense, this is a huge number. It’s partly motivated by the volumes we foresee to decarbonise gas,” Dimitrios Chaniotis, system development committee chair at ENTSO-E, told EU news website Euractiv.

“Now, we don’t know yet where they’re going to be located or how they’re going to be operated — on renewables, nuclear, or whatever else.

“This is quite a complex issue, and we’re just starting to model it and understand it… but we cannot assess it precisely at this point in time.”

The enormous scale of opportunities for the renewables sector from green hydrogen becomes apparent when you consider what 300-800TWh equates to in real terms.of

According to Recharge’s calculations, 800TWh is the equivalent of all the output from 413.14GW of onshore wind (at an average capacity factor [CF] of 22% — as seen across Europe in 2018, according to WindEurope); 253.5GW of offshore (36% CF); 505.55GW of solar (18% CF) or 98.59GW of nuclear (92.5% CF).

Using the same capacity factors, 300TWh would be the equivalent of 95GW of offshore wind, 155GW of onshore wind, 190GW of solar or 37GW of nuclear.

To meet the hydrogen demand alone — never mind the power needs of Europe — would therefore require a massive scaling up of renewable energy in Europe.

At the end of 2018, Europe had a total of 163.97GW of onshore wind installed, 18.52GW of offshore and 121.6GW of solar, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. The World Nuclear Association says that there were 119GW of nuclear capacity in the EU at the end of 2019.

Hydrogen is seen as a vital fuel for the energy transition as it can be used to generate electricity and heat with zero greenhouse-gas emissions, and can be used for energy storage, as a long-distance transport fuel, as a replacement for natural gas, and as a feedstock for aviation fuel, ammonia fertilisers and other chemicals.

Currently, more than 95% of the hydrogen produced is extracted from natural gas or coal, resulting in nine to 12 tonnes of CO2 being released for every tonne of H2. This 'grey hydrogen' is up to five times cheaper to produce than green hydrogen, although a Canadian company recently put its green H2 on the market at prices only 80% higher than grey.

Several studies say that green hydrogen could become cheaper than grey by 2030 as more and more electrolysers are built, due to economies of scale.