The Russian aggression in Ukraine has not only fundamentally changed German energy policy in the short term. Top priority among EU members since spring 2022 has been the fastest possible independence from Russian natural gas, oil and coal. Because of the throttled natural gas delivery to Germany that had been central for national energy provision – and not least in view of the terrible events in the course of the Ukraine war – it was necessary to immediately establish a more Russia-independent gas supply.
The construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals at a pace that suits the current need in Germany is of central importance against this background. The administration of the German state of Niedersachsen is vigorously supporting this approach and with all available means. The establishing of LNG terminals also offers the prospect of replacing the incoming fossil liquefied gas with climate-neutral gases in the medium term. The LNG terminals can be used for this without conversion – an important prerequisite for our goal of creating a climate-neutral energy supply.
For stronger diversification of natural gas supply to the member states, the EU Commission has been pushing for greater access to the global LNG market for years. Germany, the largest natural gas market in the EU with sea access, now also has, since December 2022, LNG import terminals. In Niedersachsen, they are in Wilhelmshaven and Stade (currently under construction).
Niedersachsen – Energy hub and gateway to the world
Niedersachsen, because of its geographical position and proximity to major markets, is a logical location for LNG terminals. Furthermore, it is also an important industrial area – with high energy demand. Niedersachsen’s LNG terminals will therefore play an important role in securing Germany’s energy supply and reducing CO2 emissions.
German chancellor Olaf Scholz stated on February 27, 2022 at the parliament that liquefied natural gas terminals are to be built in Brunsbüttel, located in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, and Wilhelmshaven in Niedersachsen. In the following weeks, the Niedersachsen government together with the federal government pushed forward adjustments to legislation that were necessary to more quickly advance through the required approval procedures. These include, in particular, the accelerating, simplifying and shortening or even, in special circumstances, partial waiver of planning and approval procedures.
Energy companies and public authorities have been and will be supported by the state government in this. Our goal is to move through the application and approval processes swiftly and efficiently so that the LNG import terminals and necessary connections to the pipeline can be built as quickly as possible.
The Niedersachsen sites of Wilhelmshaven and Stade, with their existing port infrastructure, direct access to trans-European natural gas supply networks and coastal gas storage capacities, have excellent location characteristics for developing LNG infrastructures on the northern coast of Germany.
LNG terminal Wilhelmshaven with floating FSRU
The LNG terminal in Wilhelmshaven with floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) was opened December 17, 2022. After a test phase, it went into regular operation one month later. The approval process as well as the construction were accelerated – thanks to, among other things, the law to accelerate the building of liquefied natural gas infrastructure (LNG-Beschleunigungsgesetz, LNGG).
Construction work started May 5, 2022 and was finished by November 11, 2022. Record speed! For the further transport of the regasified LNG, the transmission grid operator Open Grid Europe GmbH (OGE) in the shortest of times built a nearly 30 kilometer long gas line with connection to the main gas transmission line and the natural gas storage facility in Etzel.
The LNG receiving hub in Stade is to go into operation winter 2023/2024. Hanseatic Energy Hub GmbH is running the project of constructing a land-supported LNG terminal in the port Seehafen Stade-Bützfleth. Approval to begin construction of the port infrastructure was obtained September 16, 2022. October 12, 2022, Niedersachsen Ports GmbH & Co. KG (NPorts) submitted the construction order.
The first breaking of the ground for the wharf took place January 20, 2023. There, an FSRU is going into operation first, end of 2023, until the onshore terminal can take up its work, in year 2026/2027 according to the plan. In addition, a third LNG terminal for Niedersachsen is to appear in Wilhelmshaven without state financing, through a consortium led by the company Tree Energy Solutions (TES).
“Before we can completely quit natural gas, it will be several years. It is crucial that we now make rapid progress in the field of green hydrogen… The new terminals are to be used particularly to get earlier started in the import of climate-neutral hydrogen. In Niedersachsen, projects for this have been set.”
Niedersachsen’s minister-president Stephan Weil
New speed carried over to other projects
The LNG projects that have been completed and are underway show that with appropriate coordination, bundling and prioritization, a considerably faster approval practice is possible – without compromising on environmental protection and nature conservation. We want to maintain this new speed in more projects.
The state government is therefore determined to further speed up the planning and approval procedures for climate protection projects and to improve the clarity and consistency of the laws. For this, we need better equipped and more efficiently organized planning and approval authorities. For the rapid transformation of the economy and energy supply, we therefore need an effective strengthening of the authorities central for the energy transition. The government of Niedersachsen has therefore established “Taskforce Energiewende.”
Energy imports unavoidable
In view of the geopolitical dependency of the energy market and the associated risks, it is a national task to provide suitable and sufficient LNG import infrastructures in the future. After a transition period, these new infrastructures are to quickly be made “green.”
In principle, even with a climate-neutral energy supply using renewable energies, Germany will be dependent on energy imports. The total energy imports to Germany will significantly decline in the process, and their composition will presumably also fundamentally change. The magnitude of these climate-neutral imports will depend on various framework conditions. To ensure security of supply with climate-neutral energy carriers such as hydrogen or its derivatives, however, presumably several import terminals in Germany will be needed.
Hydrogen as a climate-neutral energy carrier – and its derivatives – are important building blocks in the climate strategy of the State of Niedersachsen and the federal government. Without the use of alternative energy carriers derived from renewables, we will not achieve the climate targets of the Paris Accord. Particularly the industrial sector, in view of the ambitious climate protection targets, has a vested interest in developing alternative, low-emissions processes, in order to remain internationally competitive despite the stricter environmental regulations and rising energy costs. For many of the use cases, the employment of climate-neutral hydrogen or synthetic energy sources is the only alternative in order to significantly reduce energy-related CO2 emissions in the industrial sector – for example in steel production.
According to the LNG-Beschleunigungsgesetz, the approval in consideration of German emissions reduction laws that is required for the operation of floating and stationary, land-bound LNG facilities may only be granted under the condition that the operation of this facility with liquefied natural gas is started December 31, 2043 at the latest. Approval for continued operation beyond this may only be granted for operation with climate-neutral hydrogen and corresponding derivatives.
Regardless of this, the state government is committed to getting the LNG facilities operating with climate-neutral hydrogen or corresponding derivatives as quickly as possible, and well before the deadline set out in the LNGG. The timing and extent of the availability of climate-neutral gases strongly depends on the development of the global supply situation for these energy sources and the respective prices. A reliable forecast of when climate-neutral gases will start becoming available on the world market is currently not possible.
Today an LNG, tomorrow a hydrogen terminal
To what degree an LNG terminal must be altered to convert it for the handling of hydrogen depends on the respective form of the hydrogen for transport. An LNG terminal can be used for the handling of ammonia or liquid synthetic methane without major technical changes to the existing facilities and conducting lines.
Transporting gaseous hydrogen requires very high pressure or a cooling to extremely low temperatures to keep it liquid. In liquid aggregate state, however, hydrogen has the highest of densities. For the transport of liquid hydrogen, facilities and pipelines would have to be significantly converted, as the temperatures for liquid hydrogen are significantly lower than for LNG. On top of that, no hydrogen transport routes exist up to now – in contrast to LNG – on a large scale and over long distances. On the one hand, technological developments are still required, and on the other hand, the transport infrastructure and the corresponding standards are lacking.
Even if not all components of an LNG terminal can be converted for hydrogen import yet, important prerequisites for this are being created at the same time as the liquefied natural gas terminals. Key elements of the LNG infrastructure can later be used for hydrogen imports: The transmission and storage capacities made available for LNG imports will also be needed for the subsequent import of hydrogen. Similar applies to the basic additional port infrastructure, the construction of which we’re advancing with high speed. At any rate, they must be available in the short term for LNG as well as for hydrogen in the medium and long term.
Author: Olaf Lies
Economy minister for Niedersachsen, Hannover, Germany