Hydrogen in Germany, to be developed, intends to rely on a large number of players. Both for hydrogen production and supply. Germany suffers from a low level of renewable energies (RE) and is therefore seeking to diversify its supplies, particularly in the European periphery. Germany also suffers from water stress, and hydrogen produced by electrolysis of water requires a large amount of water. Therefore, what are the avenues for Germany to discuss with the rest of the world in order to become one of, if not the leader of the global green hydrogen?
Hydrogen in Germany: the lack of availability of renewable energy
Low solar energy and limited wind energy potential
Hydrogen in Germany, in order to be totally decarbonized, must be derived from low-carbon electricity, mainly from solar andwind power. For Germany, the challenge is to significantly increase its RE production to meet the demand for hydrogen. On solar, for example, the country suffers from a low endowment given the nature of its climate.
For wind energy, the difficulty lies mainly in the low social acceptability of this technology among the population. Known as the “not in my backyard” phenomenon, this strongly constrains onshore wind production. Only offshore wind power still has capacity to grow, but this should be used for household electricity. Germany has decided to achieve carbon neutrality of its economy, and therefore of its electricity sector, by 2050.
Domestic production insufficient to meet hydrogen demand
This limitation of domestic production possibilities will make Germany dependent on low-carbon electricity imports. The production ofhydrogen by electrolysis requires very large quantities of electricity at a low cost. According to many experts, electricity represents between 60 and 80% of the production cost of hydrogen.
According to the Fraunhofer Institute, German hydrogen demand is expected to reach at least 250 TWh annually by 2050. This means that Berlin will have to import nearly 45 million metric tons of hydrogen to meet its demand. That is why the German government has earmarked 2 billion euros for projects abroad in its national strategy.
Germany’s international green hydrogen strategy
A strategy focused on the periphery of Europe
In order to meet its domestic demand, Germany must therefore import large quantities of green hydrogen. The periphery of Europe is the ideal place to realize this ambition. Ukraine, in particular, has a strong wind energy potential and is part of the European Energy Community. Last August, Kiev and Berlin signed an energy partnership in whichhydrogen production is part of the deal.
Germany is counting mainly on North Africa and its high solar energy endowment in the coming years. An agreement has been reached with Morocco to build the first hydrogen manufacturing plant in Africa. Discussions are also underway with Algeria to bring solar electricity to Germany via the Desertec project.
A truly international strategy
In addition to the periphery of Europe, Berlin has signed several foreign partnerships in Asia and Latin America. On the American continent, the Germans can rely on a long-standing energy partnership with Chile. Last December, the two countries agreed to produce a green hydrogen plant in Patagonia. This pilot project named “Haru Oni” mainly involves German companies such as Siemens or Porsche AG.
With its enormous solar capacities, Australia is also a strong partner for Germany, especially as the country is also developing its hydrogen industry. Berlin and Canberra have launched a joint consortium of researchers and industrialists. The longer-term objective is to organize a true green hydrogen supply chain between the two countries.
The issue of controlling green hydrogen supply chains
The water problem
The internationalization of Germany’s green hydrogen strategy therefore responds to a weakness in RE production. Through its partnerships abroad, Berlin wishes to control its future supply and fill its lack of domestic production. Yet this strategy is likely to face many obstacles by 2050.
First of all, most of Germany’s partner countries suffer from water stress, which can impacthydrogen production. It is important to remember that the electrolysis method requires a significant amount of water to produce this energy carrier. Berlin could thus find itself dependent on vulnerable countries that will prioritize agriculture and not hydrogen in terms of access to water.
The problem of transportation
Another difficulty is that the transport ofhydrogen is still very far from being mastered. Germany could thus directly import low-carbon electricity before manufacturing hydrogen on its territory. Berlin is considering this method with Algeria, but the costs of transporting electricity are still too high.
Alternatively, Germany is considering using existing gas pipelines by replacing the gas with hydrogen. However, the corrosive effects of hydrogen on infrastructure make this option impractical in practice. Transportation by ship seems to be the preferred option for the time being, but this has a significant cost in terms of security, more so than by pipeline. In addition, there are constraints related to the liquefaction of hydrogen, which leads to additional production costs.
Therefore, although Berlin has put a lot of emphasis on green hydrogen, it presents significant obstacles for industry. Forced to import a significant portion of its hydrogen, Germany will have to control its supply chain. The internationalization of the German strategy aims to achieve this goal by signing numerous partnerships around the world. However, the transportation of hydrogen remains a major challenge that must be addressed in the coming years.