Europe urgently needs to start planning a “multi-billion euro” distribution network fit for green hydrogen produced offshore if it wants it to play a major role in decarbonisation, said one of the leading figures developing wind technology for renewable H2 as he called on the EU to take a lead role.

Poul Skjærbæk, chief innovation and product officer at Siemens Gamesa, said that while work on the technical challenges of integrating electrolysers and offshore wind turbines is already well underway, massive deployment of projects in the North Sea will be impossible without the means to send the output to where it is needed.

“The technology [of renewable production] I’m not so worried about,” Skjærbæk told Recharge at WindEurope's Electric City event in Copenhagen. “Infrastructure is the challenging part. We know the challenges of the electricity grid – this is just so much bigger.

“We really need someone to facilitate the investments in these big distribution assets to trigger hydrogen projects offshore.”

Although the existing natural gas network could be upgraded to some extent, the Siemens Gamesa official claimed major new additional capacity will be needed to tap the full potential of offshore green H2.

While there is some tentative exploratory work by the gas industry, Skjærbæk claimed ultimately “some sort of political push” will be needed to spur what would be “a multi-billion investment to make a central connection into the North Sea to serve Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany”, with backing from the EU “a good place to start”.

A 48-inch diameter gas pipeline into the North Sea and connecting to major demand centres would mean “we could relatively quickly start decarbonising the heavy industry in the Ruhr area” using offshore-wind powered green hydrogen, he added.

There is also already interest from the shipping industry in using green fuel – if it can be transported to where it is needed for bunkering (refuelling) vessels at ports such as Hamburg or Rotterdam.

“I met with one of the big shipping companies the other day, and they were very keen in understanding how they could get a green fuel – and this was immediately the challenge that came up.

“They may have two or three places where they normally bunker and they would need the fuel there.”

Siemens Gamesa revealed earlier this year how it is working with parent group Siemens Energy on a five-year project to integrate electrolysis into its most powerful 14MW wind turbines, allowing them to produce green H2 at source for transport back to shore without the need for the costly electricity export infrastructure usually required for offshore wind.

The Siemens partnership wants to getting a full-scale offshore demonstrator up and running by 2026 and introduce a “bread-and-butter” product into the market in time for accelerated growth towards the end of the decade that could rapidly be deployed at gigawatt scale.

Skjærbæk said it is crucial that any hydrogen distribution investments are made with future massive scale in mind and not geared around early, smaller projects.

“A 48-inch pipeline will help you with 20GW of [offshore wind hydrogen] production where a 12-inch pipe will be 1GW – but the cost difference between the two is maybe 25%.”