Germany is considering holding special offshore wind tenders to produce green hydrogen at an industrial scale, according to the draft of a national hydrogen strategy by the economics and energy ministry seen by Recharge.

Awarding areas at sea exclusively for hydrogen production is one out of 34 measures the ministry suggests in a 21-page draft document that will now undergo the scrutiny of other ministries before being presented by economics and energy minister Peter Altmaier.

“The designation of areas that can be used for the off-shore production of hydrogen, the necessary infrastructure and options for additional tenders for the generation of renewable energies will be relevant topics (implementation from 2020),” the draft stresses without giving more specific detail on when special tenders may be held or what volume they could have.

“Due to the high full load hours, wind energy at sea is an attractive technology for generating renewable electricity, which can be used for the production of CO2-free hydrogen,” it explains.

The proposal for a hydrogen strategy includes the need for billions of euros in support, and stresses that Germany will need to build up a strong domestic market for green hydrogen in order to become a world leader in hydrogen technology.

But it acknowledges that given the country’s limited own renewable energy generation capacities, it will also need to import large quantities of CO2-free hydrogen.

“The European Union, in particular with the North Sea, has geographically suitable and profitable locations for wind energy and thus offers great potential for the production of green hydrogen,” the proposal states, but also says that part of the hydrogen supply could come from non-EU nations, where renewables can be produced at very cheap prices on a large scale.

Simone Peter, president of Germany's influential renewable energies federation (BEE), at a reception yesterday that had Altmaier as guest cautioned that any imports must be only of green hydrogen and only if that doesn't come at the price of scaling down renewable energy ambitions at home.

"It mustn't happen that we speculate about giant hydrogen imports that in the end may even be of fossil origin, if at the same time wind power is collapsing at home and solar and bio energy have to be capped," Peter said.

"Hydrogen must be green. It is too valuable to apply it where renewables can be employed directly."

For the domestic part of hydrogen supply, the government in its proposal suggests Germany to build up the potential to produce hydrogen from at least 3, if possible 5GW of electrolysis capacity, and targets that Germany should be able to cover about 20% of its needs for CO2-free hydrogen by 2030.

For comparison, Germany’s current cumulated offshore wind generation capacity stands at 7.5GW, which took a decade to be built and is used solely for electricity production.

Launching a national hydrogen strategy is part of Germany’s Energiewende - its transition from nuclear and fossil to renewable energy, - which the ministry stresses needs to be done by combining security of supply and competitiveness with innovative forms of climate protection.

“For that, we need CO2-free alternatives to our currently used fossil energy sources,” the proposal says.

In the medium term, Germany wants to opt massively for green hydrogen in sectors that are otherwise difficult to decarbonise, such as transport (buses, lorries, some trains, shipping, aviation), in heavy industries (steel, cement), and in the longer run heating. Hydrogen is also seen as a flexible means of energy storage.

The government plans to support its hydrogen strategy with billions of euros, although the exact figures are still subject to discussions among ministries.

In the draft seen by Recharge, some €1.4bn ($1.54bn) are foreseen in support for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies by 2026, another €600m for so-called ‘real labs of the Energiewende,’ or pilot schemes on a regional level.

For the use of hydrogen technologies in industrial production, subsidies of about €650m are earmarked by 2024, and another €700m in support for fuel-cell based heating systems. The draft foresees another €25m each for research into hydrogen in aviation and shipping.

Several billions in support programmes for electric vehicles and their charging stations network are also planned to benefit hydrogen-based fuels and their infrastructure.

UPDATES to add comment by renewables federation BEE