Hydrogen Germany and France share a common ambition in the development of green hydrogen. In this sense, Paris and Berlin have created a joint partnership to strengthen European leadership in this area. However, the two countries are unable to agree on the role of nuclear power in achieving this ambition.
Hydrogen Germany, France: a common European ambition
A strategic energy vector for both countries
Green hydrogen is a new form ofhydrogen derived from water electrolysis methods using non-carbon electricity. This hydrogen could play a fundamental role in the decarbonization of certain key sectors such as aviation or the steel industry. Today, it is the only technology capable of drastically reducing emissions in these sectors with high abatement costs.
This diagnosis is shared by Paris and Berlin, for whom green hydrogen represents a long-term strategic opportunity. Both countries have announced almost simultaneously a national plan to stimulate the production of hydrogen by electrolysis. France has decided to devote 7 billion euros to this objective, while Germany wishes to spend 9 billion.
The creation of a common partnership
This convergence of views between the two countries has led to the establishment of a jointhydrogen partnership. Launched in 2020, it aims to create economies of scale at the European level in order to compete with China. Berlin wants to avoid a repeat of the collapse of the German solar industry, which was swept away by Chinese firms in early 2010.
In order to achieve these economies of scale and thus remain competitive, the two countries decided to create a gigafactory. According to Bruno Le Maire, this will be the largest hydrogen electrolysis production plant in the world. For the moment, little is known about this project except that it is inspired by the gigafactory model in batteries.
Nuclear power for French green hydrogen
France’s competitive advantage
In order to produce low-carbonhydrogen, Paris is relying on nuclear energy as a source of non-CO2 emitting electricity. For the French government, nuclear power offers considerable advantages in terms of hydrogen. First, hydrogen could be a boon for the industry at a time when its weight in the electricity mix is expected to decline.
In addition, nuclear power allows Paris not to depend on imports, unlike Germany. But above all, nuclear energy produces electricity continuously, giving it a competitive advantage over intermittent renewable energies. This advantage is reflected in the constant use of the electrolysers and a reduction in their maintenance costs.
The weakness of RE in France
In addition, Paris has difficulty in substantially increasing its domestic production of renewable energy (RE). Inwind energy, onshore installations are limited by their low social acceptability to the population. Offshore, the potential is still limited to the northwest of the country. Finally, solar capacity alone cannot provide the necessary supply for energy-intensive electrolysers.
This is why nuclear power cannot be excluded from hydrogen production in France. Remember that the French plan is to substitute 20% of final energy consumption with hydrogen by 2050. This would correspond to a doubling of the electricity production on the national territory. Under these conditions, it seems impossible for RE alone to ensure such an increase in electricity generation.
The Franco-German disagreement on low-carbon hydrogen
German opposition on nuclear power
Within the framework of the Franco-German partnership, Paris is therefore pushing to integrate nuclear power into the production of low-carbonhydrogen. However, Berlin is firmly opposed to any use of nuclear power and relies entirely on renewable energy as a source of electricity. For Germany, nuclear power cannot be considered a credible option given its non-renewable nature.
Nuclear waste has been singled out by the German authorities, who will close their last power plants in 2022. This refusal is all the stronger because the ecologists enjoy considerable political weight in Germany. Remember that the country is in the middle of an election year with the departure of Angela Merkel next October.
A fight at the European level, especially on taxonomy
This deep disagreement between the two countries has important repercussions at the European level. Thus, the nuclear issue has considerably slowed down the work of taxonomy of green investments carried out by the European Commission (EC). This work aims to define the criteria of a sustainable development project in order to better target grants.
In fact, if nuclear power is excluded from this taxonomy, it will not be able to benefit from European subsidies. This will be a mortal blow to the use of nuclear power inhydrogen production. The European taxonomy should be presented in the coming weeks by the EC.
This decision will therefore have considerable consequences on the hydrogen plan in France. If nuclear power were excluded, it is clear that this plan could not achieve its objectives. Conversely, if the EC decides to include nuclear power, then Paris would have a major competitive advantage over its German neighbor. This debate shows the extreme division that reigns within the Franco-German couple on the issue of low-carbon hydrogen.