Angela Merkel's government is studying plans to tap into offshore wind-powered “German electrolyser capacity” sited in other EU nations to satisfy a massive demand for green hydrogen that can't be met through domestic production.
The plan, which could see offshore wind used to produce hydrogen for the German economy in neighbouring North Sea or Baltic states or even further afield, is part of the latest draft of the country’s national hydrogen strategy seen by Recharge.
The government will present the strategy still this month and in time for Germany's EU presidency during the second half of the year, Thorsten Herdan, director general energy at the economics and energy ministry, said at a press conference on the WindEnergy Hamburg exposition and conference.
"For us hydrogen and offshore wind very much goes together, because we all know that if we are going to install large quantities of electrolysers, we do need large quantities of new, additional green energy," Herdan said.
"This is electricity mainly by wind and PV. And we cannot do that in Germany without offshore [wind] and we cannot do that without the European offshore potential. We need to overcome that every country looks through its very small portion of, say, the North Sea. We have to work together."
The draft backs green hydrogen from renewable sources as the long-term choice over the blue variety from abated fossil fuels, but admits that Europe's largest economy won't be able to produce enough of the former to meet its vast needs and therefore may also have to import blue hydrogen.
Economics and energy minister Peter Altmaier, whose ministry is spearheading the development of the hydrogen strategy, in late April had already said that Germany during its EU presidency in the second half of this year plans to push for joint offshore wind projects among member states, as well as a collective approach to hydrogen.
The current draft of the hydrogen strategy expects that Germany should have at least 3GW, if not 5GW of electrolyser capacity by 2030 to produce ‘green hydrogen’ from renewable energy projects in the country itself.
As part of a coalition deal for a €130bn ($146bn) stimulus package to counter the economic recession triggered by the coronavirus, the economics ministry said a further 5GW in electrolyser capacity will be built in Germany by 2035 or 2040 at the latest.
The government plans to give direct investment support for the build-up of electrolysers, and plans to introduce contracts for difference (CfDs) for the operation of electrolysers, as well as to free them from having to pay a supplement to finance renewables (EEG surcharge).
However, the domestic capacity expected by 2030 is considered to be insufficient for Germany’s foreseen massive hydrogen needs by then and another up to 5GW in “German electrolyser capacity” should be built up – but not necessarily in Germany – based on a reliable regulatory framework for offshore wind to be worked out with countries bordering the North and Baltic Seas, the strategy draft reads.
According to the Tagesspiegel newspaper, the power from the offshore wind arrays could in part be transported to land in Germany for the production of hydrogen in electrolysers there. An alternative would be the production of hydrogen directly on artificial islands at sea, such as the North Sea Wind Power Hub that has been in early stages of planning at Dutch-German transmission system operator TenneT. Such artificial islands could host wind farms of 10-15GW each as well as electrolysers, Tagesspiegel said.
Denmark in May also confirmed plans for natural or artificial energy islands in the North and Baltic Seas that would add 4GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 alone, and could be linked to neighbouring countries such as Germany.
Projects in Southern Europe are mentioned in the German strategy draft as a further option.
“Even if this potential can realistically be raised after 2030, the Federal Government will continue to support promising projects before 2030,” the draft reads, adding that Berlin aims at building up production facilities also in further partner countries in the wake of development help.
Anja Karliczek, the science minister, in a newspaper interview in February had said the government is already exploring opportunities for hydrogen production and the resulting supply chains in West African countries such as Ghana.
The long-delayed hydrogen strategy was supposed to be presented on Wednesday, June 3, but has been postponed once more, Recharge has learned.
In Germany, the government wants to build up a hydrogen production capacity solely based on green hydrogen, but the government assumes that a wider European and global hydrogen market will emerge within the next ten years.
So-called ‘blue hydrogen’ (produced from natural gas and linked to CCS) and ‘turquoise hydrogen’ ( made through high-temperature pyrolysis in the absence of oxygen) will also be traded on that market, which will play a role in Germany as well, and if available be imported temporarily, according to the draft.
Altmaier at first wanted blue hydrogen to gain a wider scope in the hydrogen strategy, calling it 'CO2-free hydrogen', but that idea met strong resistance by other ministries, which insisted on a clause in the national strategy that “only hydrogen produced on the basis of renewable energies (‘green hydrogen’) is sustainable in the long run.”
The distinction matters as billions of euros in subsidies are at stake in the wake of Germany’s ambitious hydrogen strategy.
The latest draft of the hydrogen strategy also states that the focus until 2030 is on using hydrogen for difficult to decarbonise areas such as steel making or chemicals and parts of transportation.
Hydrogen is foreseen for heating only in the long run, the draft notes, as the massive amounts of hydrogen needed in Germany cannot be produced within the country.
UPDATED to add detail from Germany's Covid-19 stimulus package