The switch from natural gas to green hydrogen, and its importance for climate change promises

By Morten Helveg Petersen, MEP (Renew Europe – Denmark), Vice-Chair ITRE Committee

The fuel of the future will be green renewable hydrogen – but for that to be a reality there is a long but exciting road ahead. We are taking the first steeps now, with the Hydrogen Strategy, but we are going to step up the work in the coming years both in Parliament, the Commission and the member states.

In Brussels, some talk highly of natural gas as a transition fuel that can power the green transition in the coming years. However, the is no long-term future in natural gas but only the risk of a lock-in. The ETS system will increase the cost of natural gas, while the prices of electricity and thereby the power of green hydrogen is expected to fall intensely. That is why we need to make the transition to green hydrogen as smooth as possible, because there is no doubt that we need a complete renewable fuel to reach climate neutrality in 2050.

Instead, we should take a long-term perspective and secure the funds needed for investments in the infrastructure and technology required to create the green hydrogen of the future.

We need to support large scaled electrolysis project, so we can ramp up the production form MW to GW of energy. But we also need to look at how we produce the electricity required for the hydrogen production.

The is no doubt that the most efficient energy source is pure electricity and we must prioritize to electrify the union – powering it with renewable energy sources. But there will be sectors that cannot be electrified where we need an alternative – this is where hydrogen comes into the picture. Fueling parts of the heavy industry together with heavy transport, airplanes and ships with green hydrogen will create a huge demand. For transport the weight of batteries will probably make it impossible or inefficient to make them run on electricity – here hydrogen, either in pure or concerted form, will be much needed.

Further hydrogen has the potential to increase the overall effectiveness of the whole electricity system by using the excess supply in the grid and avoiding that the power production is curtailed.

Here hydrogen production can be intensified at night or in the holidays, when electricity demand is lower, and it is cheaper – thereby using the excess supply.

This means that we need also need to look at the regulation of the power grids, such that the production of hydrogen will never be regulated or taxed in such a way that it will put a damper on the production of it.

However, in the long run the need for green hydrogen and thereby the electricity to power it, will be at such a level, that we need dedicated production facilities to power the electrolysis process. This means that we have to build solar power facilities, offshore wind farms and other renewable energy sources that directly can power an electrolysis facility and thereby be dedicated to hydrogen.

This is why both the Commissions’ Sector Integration Strategy and Offshore Strategy are of such an importance. Just to take one angle, the offshore potential is enormous – wind, wave and tide energy that can be created at sea and converted to hydrogen either at old oil platforms or separate energy islands before sent to shore. Hereby we can convert massive amounts of renewable energy directly to green hydrogen, that can be used to fuel the mentioned sectors which cannot be electrified.

Another important step is to look at the infrastructure. There is no doubt that a Europe running on green hydrogen, to power heavy transport and heavy industry, will need large investments in the infrastructure for transporting hydrogen.

An obvious solution is to use existing gas infrastructure and pipes – repurposing them form transporting gas to hydrogen. However, one major problem is that we do not know the future demand and use of hydrogen.

Many gas pipes are built in areas that are being electrified and does not necessary run by areas with large renewable energy production. Further we cannot be sure that the capacity necessary for the hydrogen demand will meet the gas capacity which the pipes are built for. This means that the potential for using existing gas pipes are unknown. It is therefore essential, that we start by assessing the demand for hydrogen and where it is needed. Further we need to figure out where the hydrogen will be produced and start building the production facilities before we create the infrastructure. Otherwise we risk throwing huge amounts of money after infrastructure project we won’t need in the future – instead of spending it on developing the renewable energy required for producing the huge amounts of green hydrogen that is necessary for the climate goals.

So, there is no doubt the next big project is green hydrogen when we have met our electrification limits. We just need to figure out how we get there – starting with developing the renewable energy needed, ramping up the electrolysis facilities and figuring out precisely what infrastructure we need to make hydrogen accessible where it is required.