As a result of the conflict in Ukraine, Germany’s energy policy has changed.
From 35 percent to 12 percent and 55 percent to 35 percent, Germany’s dependence on Russian oil and gas has decreased since the start of the war.
However, Moscow’s energy trading business is a significant source of income. The Finnish think tank CREA has estimated that Germany spent about €9 billion ($9.6 billion) in the first two months of the war on Russian oil and gas imports.
Her title as one of Germany’s Economic Sages fits Veronika Grimm, an economics professor at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.
It’s time to speed up the process of diversifying and decarbonizing our energy sources. Ms. Grimm wants the nation to “ramp up” the use of hydrogen to help achieve this aim.
It is possible to store enormous amounts of energy in hydrogen and use it as a substitute for natural gas in industrial processes and power fuel cells in vehicles such as trucks, trains, ships, and planes that only release water vapor.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an energy research organization, Ms. Grimm’s excitement for hydrogen is gaining traction. As a result, dozens of countries have published or are going to post-national hydrogen programs.
It’s not yet known if hydrogen can be used in huge quantities on a wide scale.
After the two oil crises of the 1970s and the climate concerns of the 1990s, there was a similar excitement. But they both faded away. So is there any difference in the current buzz?
Critics claim that most hydrogen councils are skewed in favor of hydrogen since it guarantees subsidies and keeps the demand for existing assets like pipelines, tankers, turbines, and boilers high.
According to these critics, politicians prefer to focus on long-term, green-sounding ideas rather than immediate fixes.
However, environmentalists are wary of hydrogen because it cannot be used as a primary energy source. To avoid this, it must be constructed primarily in two methods, each with its unique color code.
An electrolyzer separates water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules, resulting in green hydrogen. However, the devices and the electricity needed to run them are still expensive.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), only 0.03 percent of worldwide hydrogen production comes from emission-free hydrogen.
Grey hydrogen, generated from natural gas, oil, or coal, is up to five times less expensive than white hydrogen. However, the CO2 emitted is around 50% higher than if the natural gas were burned directly because of production losses.
Blue hydrogen is a technique that’s related to this one. About 60 to 90 percent of the carbon generated during production is captured for reuse or storage in this method.
The disadvantages of this technology include a cost increase of almost twofold and a lack of large-scale production capabilities. As a result, only 0.7 percent of the world’s hydrogen production is blue.
According to these estimates, global hydrogen production produces nearly three times as much CO2 as the entire country of France.
Much will depend on which countries choose to manufacture hydrogen.
Solar power is the go-to option for most sun-baked nations to power their electrolyzers, but France relies on nuclear power.
During this time, China strongly preferred low-cost grey hydrogen produced from coal and gas.
By injecting captured carbon into oil and gas fields for long-term storage or what’s known as “enhanced oil recovery,” the United States, Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, and Norway are pushing for blue hydrogen.
However, in Germany, the picture is hazier.
A professor of renewable energy systems at Berlin’s University Applied Sciences, Volker Quaschning, is critical of Germany’s hydrogen strategy: “The government of Angela Merkel utilised it as a ruse to hide its shortcomings during the energy shift.”
Solar and wind power should have been extended more quickly to permit future green hydrogen generation, which Germany’s new government has pledged to do.
Nevertheless, on hydrogen, the three coalition parties, the three responsible ministries, and the hydrogen council all fight internally on whether to focus on green hydrogen or accept the blue alternative to bridge the gap in restricted supply temporarily.
Most hydrogen council agrees with Ms. Grimm’s preference for a multi-color combination.
According to her, this new industry will be better off if we accept blue hydrogen. As a result, Germany’s scientific advancements will be bolstered, and potential suppliers will be encouraged to engage in environmentally friendly hydrogen generation.”
Domestic generation of green hydrogen is expected to increase by 150 from 70 megawatts to 10 gigawatts by 2030, as revealed by Economy Minister Robert Habeck in January.
This objective is more significant than France’s 6.5 GW ambition and a quarter of the EU’s overall goal of 40 GW.
In the meanwhile, Germany is attempting to import hydrogen from other countries.
According to German Energy Agency chief Andreas Kuhlmann (a government-owned organization that facilitates the energy transition and coordinates the Hydrogen Council), Germany has drastically accelerated international discussions to buy hydrogen.
For example, southern Europe has excellent solar and wind power conditions, making it an ideal location to produce hydrogen at a low cost.
Mr. Habeck is making a flurry of trips to energy-exporting countries. He traveled to Norway, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates in a week in March to sign a feasibility study for a hydrogen pipeline, as well as to finalize an energy alliance and sign five cooperation agreements.
Shipments from the United Arab Emirates will begin this year.
Also on Mr. Habeck’s hydrogen radar are Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Chile.
Even though Mr. Quaschning accepts the necessity of importing hydrogen, he shatters some of the dreams of Mr. Habeck. First, importing hydrogen from desert plants is slow, inefficient, and expensive.
Desalination of seawater to obtain fresh water as raw material, electrolysis, liquefication for shipping, transportation by tanker, local transport through the pipeline in Germany, and the re-conversion of hydrogen into electricity are all steps in the supply chain that use up some of the initial energy.
Mr. Quaschning, “These steps would eat up at least 70 percent of the electricity that was originally produced in the desert.”
It doesn’t matter how much electricity a desert solar panel generates because of the enormous losses during transportation; it would be twice as efficient to produce solar power in Germany.
Hydrogen is sometimes referred to as the “champagne of the energy transition” because of its high price tag. So, who will be the first to enjoy a drink?
Most people agree with this. “It is essential that we distribute hydrogen solely to those businesses, where direct electrification is not viable,” says Felix Matthes, an energy specialist at the ko-Institut, a think tank and a member of Germany’s hydrogen council, a member of the German Hydrogen Council.
This is why he argues: “So, we should initially use it in the manufacturing of steel, chemicals, and glass,”
Shipping, long-distance trucking, and medium- and long-distance airline travel are possible next steps. However, he goes on to say that other applications, such as cars or heating, are wasteful, expensive, and impracticable.
Electrolyzers that produce hydrogen during sunny and windy days can be used as large-scale storage for cloudy winter days because of Mr. Habeck’s renewed emphasis on renewable energy sources, according to Mr. Matthes.
Germany is under pressure to reduce its reliance on Russian energy, but it will be a difficult transition.
Many people are counting on hydrogen to make the transition easier this time by living up to its promise.