Who can make the most of hydrogen and fuel cells? This question seems to have sparked a fierce competition between several German government ministries since late 2019 as they are vying with each other for control over the debate. Their tug-of-war began spreading through the political landscape when hydrogen became an issue to campaign on early this year, prior to the Hamburg state elections. Although the Christian Democrats were the ones who actively promoted the technology for a while, public opinion seems to have shifted in favor of what the Social Democrats are planning to do with it.
Meanwhile, the draft document mapping out Germany’s hydrogen strategy has grown from six to 21 pages and the government agencies involved are taking longer than expected to reach an agreement. These could be signs that policymakers have belatedly but finally acknowledged that hydrogen will have an important role to play in a next-generation energy system.
There is consensus on a few basic points. Most political party representatives want to make use of hydrogen and are willing to fund efforts to bring it to market. Exactly what form their support will take, however, is something the ministries, and party representatives, are still arguing about.
They do have some similar ideas. It has become obvious that a great deal of hydrogen will be needed to further decarburize every industry. Some debates about what impact, if any, an increase in demand could have on the fuel cell vehicle market are pretty much irrelevant at this time. German automakers will not manufacture many FCEVs before the start of the next decade or even later than that.
From quota to hydrogen council
The much-discussed draft strategy includes a plan that specifies five areas of action to improve conditions for generating and using hydrogen. It also suggests measures for each stage of market development. The overall aim is to continue to support R&D efforts and establish a national market by 2023. Starting in 2024, the focus is to be on strengthening that burgeoning market as well as identifying opportunities in Europe and all over the globe.
The government is also planning to create a national hydrogen council, preferably at a meeting of staff members from relevant departments during the first three months of 2020. Up to 13 influential researchers and business leaders from Germany and abroad will sit on the council to review progress and advise and support department staff so course corrections can be made if and when they are needed. A National Hydrogen Office will reportedly be set up as well, in order to oversee operations.
The funding opportunities offered by the National Innovation Program Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology, also known as NIP, are expected to continue. The German government will likewise set aside EUR 3.6 billion to keep supporting purchases of light-duty and heavy-duty trucks and vans, buses, trains, inland and coastal vessels, and fleet cars until 2023. The infrastructure buildup will be supported with EUR 4.5 billion. To create an incentive for switching to climate-friendly engines, especially in trucking, there is also talk of a Europe-wide toll system, with payments based on the carbon dioxide emissions from individual vehicles.
Regarding the transportation sector, the government has announced it will soon transpose the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, known as RED II, into national law. This will involve implementing a quota of at minimum 20 percent clean energy by 2030 to increase the proportion of renewables in final energy consumption.
Additionally, it has been stressed over and again that Germany intends to use its presidency of the EU Council in the second half of this year to take further steps “to develop sustainability standards and generate demand for zero-carbon hydrogen.“ It also wanted to set a framework for energy systems integration and create a European market for the gas. Likewise, as part of the European Green Deal, unveiled by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in 2019, it was planning to speed up implementation of the Union’s hydrogen initiatives.
At the Lausitzer Energiefachtagung conference held in late January, Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker, who works at the German economy ministry, said one concrete aim was to see the government support businesses that are close to commercializing their products or where the EU may threaten to impose fines. This would concern the petrochemical and rail sectors especially but also some other energy-intensive industries. Likewise, it wanted to help wherever hydrogen is the only option for decarburizing applications, such as in the steel, cement, glass and chemical industries. She went on to say that not unlike today, where energy imports meet 70 percent of demand, Germany would continue to receive most of its energy from abroad.
read more in H2-international May 2020