Thursday, March 23, 2023

Hydrogen: the differences of opinion between Berlin and Paris

Angela Merkel’s government presented a national strategy for green hydrogen. The energy crisis has made this low-carbon energy source more essential than ever. The new German coalition has therefore decided to double the national production targets from 5 to 10 gigawatts by 2030. It is finalizing a new strategy which should be adopted before Easter.

According to a version dated February 24, of which “Les Echos” had a copy, Berlin’s approach differs significantly from that of France, hence the current friction. Its goal is for “Germany to become a leading international supplier of hydrogen technologies by 2030”.

Given the geographical location of the country, “a national supply covering the needs would not be economically wise”, specifies the document. 50% to 70% of these needs, i.e. 45 to 90 terawatt hours in 2030, will have to be met by imports.

Guaranteeing the primacy of renewables

Still out of pragmatism, the coalition recognizes that it will have to agree to import low-carbon hydrogen. But “we plan to prioritize green hydrogen by increasing subsidies,” the document says. In this regard, Germany is demanding “ambitious certification systems”, on the basis of the European directive on renewable energies RED III currently under discussion.

Nuclear should not compete with renewable energies

Nina Scheer SPD spokesperson in the Bundestag for climate protection and energy

This is the whole difficulty with France: “Nuclear energy should not compete with renewable energies” to produce hydrogen, warns Nina Scheer, spokesperson for the Social Democrats in the Bundestag for energy. “CO2 emissions are not the only issue, waste management and reliance on cooling water as droughts increase, uranium mining, not to mention the residual risks, are also determinants. Equal treatment of nuclear energy and renewable energies would reduce the competitiveness of the latter and jeopardize the EU’s climate objectives,” concludes the elected official.

In the short term, the French nuclear fleet is in any case not able to produce hydrogen, which is already struggling to meet the country’s electricity needs.

Paris plays the appeasement

The French Minister for Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runnacher, points out that the low point in French electricity production of 280 terawatt hours last year is due to very heavy ten-year inspections and corrosion problems being repaired. “We will have resolved these two issues within a few years and it is reasonable to think that our production capacity will then be 30% higher,” said the minister.

Decarbonization is the priority and depriving ourselves of nuclear power to achieve this would be depriving ourselves of a key lever.

Agnès Pannier-Runnacher Minister for Energy Transition

She also warns against any Manichaeism: “Energy policy does not lend itself to caricature. Decarbonization is the priority and depriving ourselves of nuclear power to achieve this would be depriving ourselves of a key lever, which is also the guarantor of our competitiveness,” she argues.

On this point, Andreas Schröder, an analyst at ICIS, is skeptical. Existing nuclear power plants are competitive with wind and solar power because they benefit from economies of scale linked to the fact that they are constantly running. On the other hand, “the high cost of building new power stations limits their advantage,” he points out. Above all, the installation of new solar and wind farms is much faster, which clearly leans in their favour,” he concludes.

Germany, however, requires rapid assurances on the pace of deployment of green energy. “We will not sacrifice renewable energies, promises Agnès Pannier-Runnacher. I passed 36 texts and passed a law of 110 articles to facilitate their deployment. Between now and the connection of new nuclear reactors in 15 years, the additional capacities brought to the electricity network will be renewable”, she concludes.


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