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Politicians with an open ear for hydrogen

By Monika Rößiger

April 16, 2024

Image titel: Lively exchange at the evening reception of the H2 Forum in Berlin

Sources: Monika Rößiger

Politicians with an open ear for hydrogen

Optimism at the H2 Forum in Berlin

A good 450 participants gathered at the specialist conference H2 Forum in Berlin February 19 and 20 to discuss innovative H2 technologies, strategies for the market ramp-up and the necessary regulatory framework conditions. A further 1,000 participants were connected online, even despite the considerable time difference in countries such as India and the USA.

The event was opened via a video by Kadri Simson, EU Commissioner for Energy. The two-day program was held under the motto “Empowering the future of hydrogen,” where this year’s focus was on the production of the green gas by electrolysis and its transport in Germany and Europe. At the H2 Forum were, among others, representatives from E.on, Enapter, EWE, Linde, FNB Gas and the H2Global Foundation. They discussed the role of hydrogen in the defossilization of the economic systems. Philipp Steinberg of the German economy ministry outlined the various phases of the development of the hydrogen core grid in Germany.

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Feelings of optimism and assurance were tangible throughout the high-ceilinged rooms of the Estrel Congress Center (ECC) as players from politics, industry and the energy sector talked about ambitious H2 projects at home and abroad. Inspiring as well was the approval by the EU Commission a few days before of a series of IPCEI projects, thus ending for some participating companies years of waiting. Additionally, the carbon contracts for difference and the auctions of the European Hydrogen Bank are giving hope to business representatives.

Spain: Megawatt-electrolysis in practice

For example, Özlem Tosun, project manager for green hydrogen at Iberdrola Deutschland, reported on the experience with a 20‑MW electrolysis plant, making it currently the largest in Europe. “I hope it doesn’t stay that way,” she added, in view of the necessary market ramp-up for green hydrogen. The Spanish energy corporation, known in the country primarily as an operator of wind farms in the Baltic Sea, started operation of the plant in Puertollano, May 2022 in the presence of the King of Spain. The city with nearly 50,000 inhabitants is located about 250 kilometers south of Madrid. The electricity for the hydrogen production comes from a 100‑MW photovoltaic park a few kilometers away and flows via an underground cable into the production hall, in which 16 electrolyzers of 1.25 MW each perform their work. These produce annually up to 3,000 tonnes of green hydrogen, which is temporarily stored in tower-high pressure tanks at 60 bar. The electrolysis plant is located next to the fertilizer factory of Fertiberia and currently covers ten percent of their hydrogen requirement, which according to Iberdrola saves 48,000 metric tons of CO2.

“But this is just the beginning,” stressed Tosun. “In the coming years, Iberdrola wants to increase the production more than tenfold – to 40,000 tonnes by 2027.” The demand is there, since otherwise Fertiberia is using for its ammonia synthesis gray hydrogen obtained from natural gas. That no comparable plant for the production of green hydrogen on an industrial scale is yet in operation is also due to the fact that the whole thing is not as simple as it sounds in the big plans and letters of intent. “It didn’t go smoothly from the start,” admitted Özlem Tosun. “On the contrary – we had a lot of problems. But we also learned a lot and were able to improve a lot as a result. Not only technically, but also economically.” One of the most important points was to optimize the efficiency of electricity use. Contributing to this was that the performance and efficiency of the electrolyzers were able to be increased further and further.

Overall, the practical experience in Puertollano was important “to be able to scale the system.” As far as the large-scale production of climate-neutral energy sources is concerned, the multinational energy company not only sees itself as a pioneer, but is also optimistic about the future. Because Spain first wants to become independent of fossil fuel imports and then be able to export renewable energies. So it’s no wonder that Germany is for Iberdrola “a key market,” as Tosun says, “especially for green hydrogen.”

Lack of regulation as a stumbling block

How the development of a German and European hydrogen industry can be accelerated was one of many other topics discussed at the conference. It is important to break down barriers – for example lack of regulation and infrastructure – it was said in a panel discussion. Such hurdles, the speakers agreed, were in addition to the high costs for H2 production, like before, the crucial reasons why not a small number of companies, despite the positive feasibility studies, are still waiting with the final investment decision. The following figures show just how wide the gap is between aspiration and reality when it comes to the gas of the future: In recent years, the German government has raised the target for domestic production of green hydrogen from the original three gigawatts to ten gigawatts, yet so far not more than 62 MW of generation capacity has been installed. That there is a long way to go, but which can go faster, further practical examples have shown.

“Never waste a green electron again!”

“Did you know that with the wind power that was curtailed in the first half of 2022 alone 1.5 million households in Europe could have been supplied with electricity for a year?“ (The figure refers to average households with a consumption of 3,500 kWh per year.) That was one of several questions with which Alexander Voigt, managing director of HH2E, began his speech. “What could we do with all the green electrons that are not being generated only because the power grid cannot absorb them?” His answer, of course: Hydrogen! But also high-performance battery storage, to be able to offer energy for stabilization of the power grid. That’s how he explained the business model of the planned HH2E factory in Lubmin, Germany. It will use surplus electricity to “reliably and cost-effectively produce green hydrogen.” In addition will come CO2-free heating and, if required, the conversion of the “green molecules” back into electricity.

Alexander Voigt, CEO von HH2E, nutzt künftig Überschussstrom in Lubmin (Foto: Monika Rößiger), Source: Monika Rößiger

With this, the plant could contribute to the decarbonization of industry in Germany and, at the same time, support the energy supply. The final investment decision will be made shortly, according to Voigt, and then the way would be clear for the start of construction. In the year 2026, according to the plan, energy generation is to start: around 100 megawatts of total capacity in the first expansion stage, divided between a 56‑MW electrolyzer and a 40‑MW battery storage system. The electricity for electrolysis is coming from offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea. Initially, the operators expect to produce around 7,200 tonnes of green hydrogen per year. The production capacity of the plant is scalable up to one gigawatt. Lubmin, once a transshipment point for Russian natural gas, will then become a center for green hydrogen. This can be fed into the existing natural gas grid that extends from the northeast of Germany to the southwest near Stuttgart.

In total, more than 40 companies from the entire H2 value chain presented their solutions and products in the high glass hall next to the conference hall in the Estrel Congress Center. The organizational framework of the H2 Forum was right: There was time to connect during the coffee breaks, lunch and supper. Lively discussions took place at all the tables and stands. That more politicians were present this time than at previous events was, according to Laura Pawlik, Sales Manager of the organizer IPM, particularly emphasized in the feedback from the participants. And also that the representatives from politics and administration were definitely open to further funding.

The date for the next conference has already been set: March 4 and 5, 2025, again in the ECC in Berlin. Focal points will be in addition to politics also the regulatory progress in Germany and Europe.

Here are interesting and current articles on the topic of hydrogen – stocks and the stock market!

Economic prospects for companies in the hydrogen sector | Future, stocks & hydrogen companies on the stock exchange and more…

Which hydrogen companies will prevail in the competitive market in the long term? Get tips and cartwheels and learn more about risks or opportunities. Our stock market specialist and expert author Sven Jösting reports critically, independently and competently.

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