Climate Change

Why is Europe’s great hydrogen plan not so green?

Green hydrogen is not the “holy grail of the energy transition”. A huge lobby linked to fossil fuels is pushing the hydrogen agenda, a new report says

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 31 March 2023

A new report has warned that green hydrogen, contrary to its squeaky-clean image, is not the “holy grail of the energy transition”. The report ‘Germany’s great hydrogen race’ published on March 23, 2023, stated that the so-called ‘fuel of the future’ has severe limitations.

However, a huge lobby linked to fossil fuels is pushing the hydrogen agenda. Green hydrogen involves splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity from renewable energy sources like sunlight or wind.

Producing green hydrogen on a large scale requires vast amounts of land, water and renewable energy, which could lead to human rights issues. It accounted for only 0.04 per cent of globally produced hydrogen in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency.

But now, the European Union is planning to spend billions on public subsidies for hydrogen. The EU intends to increase green hydrogen production capacity as part of the bloc’s REPowerEU plan to 20 million tonnes, half of which will come from imports.

So, how is the fossil fuel lobby involved with all this? Germany has had a vital role in setting the EU’s agenda on climate and industrial policies. Some 100 German businesses that have strong links with the fossil fuel industry have been identified as lobbyists along the value chain for green hydrogen.

Energy loss associated with green hydrogen is another major deterrent. For example, 30 per cent of renewable energy is lost while producing hydrogen. More losses occur when hydrogen is converted into ammonia for fertilisers. Even liquefying the gas for transport causes losses.

Channeling huge amounts of funds into green hydrogen could lead to delayed climate action. For example, concentrating on inefficiently heating homes with hydrogen would get in the way of increasing the energy efficiency of buildings.

The production of green hydrogen on a large scale by Europe will also be outsourced to developing countries, triggering and-use and water conflicts, human rights violations and energy poverty.

Land conflicts have already erupted in South Africa’s Boegoebaai, a planned port and export processing zone for green hydrogen.

Furthermore, Germany is betting on “clean” blue hydrogen, which is also produced from fossil fuels. It deploys carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, where carbon dioxide emitted during production is captured and stored underground.

Blue hydrogen is claimed to be more “Pure” but its total greenhouse gas emissions are only moderately lower than those of grey hydrogen, the report warned.

Grey hydrogen is created from natural gas, or methane, using steam methane reformation but without capturing the greenhouse gases made in the process. Germany also plans to import blue hydrogen and its derivatives from Norway and the United Arab Emirates.

The report is the latest addition to powerful polluting industries trying to work their way around energy transition instead of doing what is best for energy security.

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