Coordination was hard enough when there were “only” four German ministries dealing with hydrogen – now there are six involved in updating the national hydrogen strategy, plus the chancellery. This participation of so many different departments is surely conclusive proof that hydrogen has become a key plank in the energy transition.
“Being a versatile energy carrier, hydrogen will assume a key role in achieving our ambitious energy and climate targets.” This statement shows the German government’s recognition of hydrogen’s immense importance in the future energy supply and in tackling the climate crisis. It’s for good reason that, three years after the national hydrogen strategy was adopted in June 2020, a redraft has now been approved with content and targets adjusted to match changed conditions.
The update to the national hydrogen strategy, which was enacted by the federal cabinet in July 2023, has, in the government’s words, “created a coherent framework for action for the entire hydrogen value chain – from production to transport through deployment and reuse.” The strategy, also referred to as the NWS, is designed to ensure certainty in financial planning, which provides the foundation for future investment, so that the market for green hydrogen technologies can be successfully ramped up.
At the same time, the NWS recalls that the creation of a hydrogen economy is “a task for the whole of society” whose success “requires contribution from all stakeholders.”
“Hydrogen technologies are not only an important instrument for climate change mitigation. They can enable the creation of new branches of industry with a large number of viable long-term jobs and extensive export opportunities. […] The NWS will thus also help German industry retain and further expand its strong position in hydrogen technologies.”
Specific targets defined
The main 2030 targets outlined in the NWS focus on achieving an accelerated ramp-up of hydrogen and securing sufficient availability of hydrogen and its derivatives. Accordingly, the previous goal of 5 gigawatts of electrolyzer capacity has been raised to at least 10 gigawatts. Remaining demand will be covered by imports which will be the subject of a specially developed import strategy.
What’s more, effective hydrogen infrastructure is to be put place. According to the plans, a hydrogen starter network stretching across more than 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) will be got underway by 2027/2028 and supported by funding from Brussels. The network will be composed, in part, of repurposed natural gas pipes as well as newly constructed hydrogen lines. It will form a key part of the European Hydrogen Backbone which will involve hydrogen pipelines covering a total length of around 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles).
In addition, various hydrogen applications are to be established in different industries – in the power and industrial sectors, in heavy-duty vehicles as well as in aviation and shipping. To allow this to happen, the intention is to create suitable framework conditions, specifically planning and approvals procedures, appropriate standards and certification systems. The stated aim is for Germany to become the leading supplier of hydrogen technologies by 2030.
“We have once again significantly upped the level of ambition.”
German economy minister Robert Habeck
“Hydrogen is the missing piece in the energy transition puzzle. It offers a huge opportunity to join up energy security, net-zero and competitiveness.”
German education and research minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger
“The global market for hydrogen must be fair and different than how the global fossil fuel industry once was.”
German development minister Svenja Schulze
The German government has now departed from its original approach of only financing green hydrogen through tax revenue, a move that has been particularly welcomed, unsurprisingly, by the gas lobby. Other colors of hydrogen are now also set to receive subsidies, albeit only to a limited degree and under certain conditions defined in the small print.
The update to the NWS states: “We also intend to fund the use of green and, insofar as it is needed in the ramp-up phase, low-carbon blue, turquoise and orange hydrogen on the deployment side to a limited extent while taking into account ambitious greenhouse gas limits, including emissions in the upstream chain and the ability to meet statutory net-zero targets.”
Bettina Stark-Watzinger, German education and research minister, called this a “pragmatic and technologically unbiased” decision that allows initial use of “all climate-friendly types of hydrogen.” This, she explains, will help Germany on its way to becoming a hydrogen nation.
Her colleague, German development minister Svenja Schulze, went one step further by saying: “Wherever wind and solar power is produced for hydrogen, momentum will be given to the energy transition at ground level and the local population will be supplied with electricity. And wherever seawater is desalinated for hydrogen, the nearest town will be supplied with drinking water. From a development perspective it’s clear: Hydrogen from renewables is not only the best choice for the environment, it is a cost-effective domestic energy source that also leads to better development in the Global South. We will therefore help our partner countries have a fair share of involvement in the new international market for hydrogen.”
Existing structures remain
To allow all this to happen, recourse is being made to existing institutions. For example, a “hydrogen guidance center” has already been set up that enables inquirers to receive advice on funding by phone or email. The committee of state secretaries for hydrogen acts as a decision-making body for the NWS and takes corrective action where necessary. It meets on a case-by-case basis as and when needed, which in the past was only rarely. The central body is the National Hydrogen Council, an independent, cross-party advisory committee with 26 high-ranking experts from industry, academia and civil society. The council is supported by the Coordination Office for Hydrogen.
Chair of the National Hydrogen Council, Katherina Reiche, explained: “It is an important milestone that the German government is ambitiously extending its national hydrogen strategy. […] Only hydrogen allows us to maintain value chains and ensure that key industries remain in Germany. […] Companies only invest if they have long-term planning certainty. We must therefore already look beyond 2030. According to council forecasts, the need for hydrogen and hydrogen derivatives will, by 2045, have risen to between 964 and 1,364 terawatt-hours. The Inflation Reduction Act in the USA and similar regulations around the world will accelerate the development of comprehensive value chains on an industrial scale. In view of rapid progress made in other countries, the German government should move away from exclusively focusing on flagship projects. What is more important is to create effective incentives to quickly scale the hydrogen economy and the development of new business models.”
On the subject of the – at times – fierce debate about the use of hydrogen in the heating sector, the council said that it endorses municipal heating plans as a crucial planning tool for encouraging the heating sector to shift away from fossil fuels. In its view, a successful transformation of the heating sector would require all technology options: heat pumps, heating networks, renewable heat and hydrogen. Thus all technologies should be granted equal footing as compliance options in Germany’s building energy law and be considered when undertaking infrastructure expansion.
The council added that rigorous training is needed for the specialist workforce required, both at university level and within the area of vocational training and continuing education.
Criticism and ideas for improvement
While the German government proudly unveiled the NWS update, the opposition, as expected, deems the 34-page document to be a flop. The CDU’s vice chairman, Andreas Jung, explained to German newspaper Tagesspiegel: “Hydrogen is so important for the economy and net-zero that it now needs a double-whammy.” Here Jung apes the “double-whammy” expression used by Chancellor Scholz when announcing his EUR 200 billion relief package to help with the cost of living. Jung’s criticism that the government was acting “halfheartedly” and would operate on the basis of “centrally controlled allocation” falls flat, however, since the targets set are highly ambitious and the NWS is ultimately only putting a framework in place – and does not include technical guidelines.
For example, it is understood that a “hydrogen acceleration law” will get off the ground this year to enable the installation of “further terminals only for hydrogen or its derivatives” as previously with LNG terminals. A “national port strategy” is expected to pinpoint the relevant hubs for the future hydrogen economy.
Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, CEO of Hydrogen Europe, therefore believes Germany is on the right course to be able to achieve “the broad use of green hydrogen in industry and the heating sector within nine years.” However, he thinks specific improvement measures are necessary, for instance better integration of H2 Global into the EU’s hydrogen bank in order to leverage European Union tendering processes as well as off-take agreements for temporarily nationalized companies, such as Uniper, that can contribute toward security of supply.
Additionally, Chatzimarkakis sees the need to shorten the IPCEI approval times at EU level and in Germany. He also suggests launching an “EU tax credit club” for hydrogen – as a semi-response to the Inflation Reduction Act in the USA, which cannot be introduced in the EU in a similar form due to tax regulations.
Contributions to the NWS 2.0 were made by the following German government departments: the economy ministry, the transportation ministry, the education and research ministry, the environment ministry, the development ministry as well as the foreign office and the chancellery.
HPS inaugurates home with solar hydrogen storage system
In Schöneiche, a suburb east of Berlin, the first self-sufficient hydrogen house is starting practical testing. A solar year-round storage tank should cover the demand for the modern timber house. The goal of the FlexEhome research project is to show how a home can be self-sufficient with electricity and heat if it is suitably well insulated. In the scope of this project, the participants are also testing grid-serving services.
The photovoltaic system of the brand new single-family home in the street Schillerstraße was deliberately designed to be very large with a total output of almost 30 kilowatts – so it can generate a solar energy surplus for the production of clean hydrogen. Currently, most buildings with photovoltaic systems and batteries produce too much electricity in the summer, however, not enough in the winter months. So far, there is no seasonal storage.
In a practical test, the FlexEhome research project will now demonstrate that it can be done differently: Electricity should only be released into the grid or taken out when it is also useful for the grid. This is possible due to a significantly larger storage capacity compared to batteries and the production of hydrogen, which can be stored for longer periods of time. Thanks to this flexibility, grid stability is improved and the need for expansion of the decentralised distribution grids is minimised. In this way, the residents of such a building contribute to power grid stability and supply security.
“In the future, such decentralised flexibilities will be indispensable for the success of the energy transition,” emphasised Zeyad Abul-Ella, head and founder of Home Power Solutions (HPS), at the ceremonial presentation of this solar hydrogen house. An essential component of the project is the long-term storage picea from HPS, which stores the surplus electricity from the solar system in the summer in the form of hydrogen by means of electrolysis. In winter, the green gas is converted back into electricity and heat via the fuel cell.
AEM electrolyser from Enapter
The hydrogen is produced by an AEM electrolyser 2.0 from the German-Italian manufacturer Enapter. The module can start and ramp up relatively quickly. The battery storage is a German-made lead-gel accumulator with a net capacity of 20 kWh. Lead – although a toxic heavy metal – has the advantage that there is already a well-established recycling system – especially for starter batteries from motor vehicles.
Civil engineer Abul-Ella developed the complete system of electrolyser, fuel cell, hydrogen tank as well as lead storage and ventilation unit himself almost ten years ago. However, the picea system is not cheap, costing 120,000 Euro for the full system. Nevertheless, sales of the so-called all-season power storage units have increased strongly in recent months. More than a hundred units are already in operation, and more than 500 have been ordered.
The Berlin-based company can hardly keep up with the orders. The waiting time is currently about twelve months. The production of HPS is therefore to be expanded further. Also because of projects such as FlexEhome: Participating partners are, for example, the heat pump manufacturer Vaillant, the timber house builder Albert Haus and the Technical University of Berlin.
Solar facing to the east-west and south
In order to smooth out the solar harvest from the roof already during production, the majority of the photovoltaic modules with 27.4 kilowatts were installed as a roof-integrated solution facing east-west. In addition, seven modules with a total of 2.4 kilowatts are located on the balcony railing facing to the south. Both together reduce the PV midday peak by 30 percent (see Fig. 2) – and therefore extend the runtime of the electrolyser by four hours per day in summer. “This increases the hydrogen yield by as much as 40 percent,” says Daniel Wolf from HPS. The engineer is the network coordinator of this innovative project.
The electrolyser with a total of four bundles of pressurised gas cylinders, each with an electrical output of 300 kWh (see Fig. 3), is located in a timber house on the north side of the detached house to store the H2 gas from the summer months for the winter months. According to the calculations of Daniel Wolf, the hydrogen storage tank would be completely full again by July. The space heating demand of the almost 150-square-metre home is around 40 percent below that of a KfW55 house. This high insulation standard is also necessary so that the house can supply itself with electricity and heat all year round. This is the key and the basis for full green supply.
But the long-term storage of electricity should also pay off economically in the future – through trading on the electricity market. Because there are very high exchange electricity prices every now and then, as on some days in December 2022, when it was the equivalent of 60 ct/kWh. On the other hand, there is the extreme of negative electricity prices, such as at the beginning of June 2021, when minus 5 ct/kWh was requested. This is where the H2 storage of HPS, which has reserves at all times, could pay off, says Daniel Wolf.
The (TU) Technical University of Berlin monitors all energy flows
The hydrogen is turned back into electricity and heat in a combined heat and power generation plant, where waste heat is also used. In combination with a heat pump, this ensures a year-round supply of the house with self-generated solar power. The interaction with the heat pump in particular will be investigated in greater detail through this project in the coming months.
Soon, a family of four will be living in the project house for rent. They will pay a lower rent compared to the local area, but will have to allow professional visitors and technicians access to the technical room from time to time by appointment. In order to document the full supply and a grid-serving feed-in, over the next few months the TU Berlin will also monitor all energy flows in the house in detail.
The researchers will continue to support the project until at least the end of 2024. In addition to the energy balances, they also look at the CO2 emissions. “In the end, we want to assess whether a building like this is worthwhile for climate protection,” says Alexander Studniorz from the TU Berlin. The scientists are conducting a life cycle analysis for this purpose. The scientist’s assumption is that it is the temporal shift in electricity consumption that will have a positive impact on the CO2 balance. This is because, unlike in homes with a PV system and a battery storage system, no additional grey electricity needs to be drawn from the grid on a cold winter night when many fossil-fuel power plants are in operation. “The seasonal buffer in particular, in combination with the heat pump, therefore guarantees low CO2 emissions all year round,” predicts the TU researcher.
Landesmesse Stuttgart has put the industry event just renamed Hy-Fcell on course for growth. In view of increasing global competition in the event segment, the trade fair company was working towards establishing Stuttgart as an international nucleus for especially the fuel cell vehicle sector. On September 13 and 14, more than 150 exhibitors presented their products and services at the fairgrounds by the airport – this year in Hall 4 for the first time, directly behind International Congresscenter Stuttgart (ICS).
The kick-off was being made this year by Daria Nochevnik, director of the Hydrogen Council. As head of this worldwide association of hydrogen activists, she lookd at the H2 economy on a global level in her keynote. She said: “Germany has from the start played an important role in the introduction of the hydrogen economy in Europe and on a global scale.”
Invited as well were political representatives like Baden-Württemberg’s minister for environment and energy economy Thekla Walker as well as parliamentary secretary in the federal ministry for economy and climate protection Dr. Franziska Brantner. At the conference were 60 expert presentations focused on fuel cell production, where the research platform H2GO of the Fraunhofer institutes hold alone eight sessions. Further talks were also offered by – in addition to the hosting Hy-Fcell team – the administrative agencies for hydrogen NOW, e-mobil BW, VDMA, DVGW and ZSW.
After a long time, vehicles with alternative drives were once again shown off and offered for test drives. New were also the hy-fcell Technical Tours, which provided an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at local industry players. In guided tours, various buses started from the fairgrounds and went to manufacturer Cellcentric and state research institute Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung Baden-Württemberg during Tour Ulm. Tour Heilbronn leaded to German aerospace agency location DLR Lampoldshausen as well as to the Audi location in Heilbronn. And during Tour Stuttgart, public transport company SSB as well as Hydrogen Green were viewed.
Katharina Jathe, director for Hy-Fcell at Messe Stuttgart, stated, the Technical Tours not only promised “exciting inside views into the work of pioneers in the field of hydrogen and fuel cell technology”, but also granted a “special view of Region Stuttgart”.
Particular attention was placed on startups this time. In a central area, startup companies from various countries introduced themselves, met potential interested parties and also established new business relationships. Stefan Lohnert, managing director of Messe Stuttgart, said regarding this: “The industry thrives on brave and visionary people.” That is why we wanted to give young entrepreneurs a “stage of their own and offer them an opportunity to transform their ideas into profitable applications”.
In addition, a Speakers Corner was set up in International Congresscenter Stuttgart on the fairgrounds, and a B2B Matchmaking as well as a Networking Night was offered. There was also something for up-and-coming or, conversely, established professionals: During hy-fcell Career Compass, businesses presented themselves in 3-minute pitches. In a subsequent speed networking session, potential associates could find each other in a more direct fashion.
H2UB brings together fledgling businesses and investors
Startups are a byword for innovation – and for newcomers who use disruptive techniques to bring new products or services to the world. What they all have in common is the need for cash to launch their companies and build up their businesses. But where to source the money in the first place? In this case, investors are not just useful but an essential means of turning ideas into reality. Various agencies and events are on hand to help startups and investors find one another. One such organization is H2UB, which staged the Hydroverse Convention on June 20, 2023, in the German city of Essen.
The location was quite literally colossal: the Colosseum Theater in the Westviertel area of Essen – once an industrial hall used by the company Friedrich Krupp. In attendance was Nordrhein-Westfalen’s economy minister Mona Neubaur along with over 350 investors, developers and decision-makers from the European hydrogen industry.
At the center of the event was a total of 20 startups, twelve of which took part in a pitching competition which entailed briefly presenting their ideas and answering questions posed by a panel of judges. A broad range of companies was represented, from a one-man band to a European bus manufacturer.
Emerging victorious from the male-dominated contest was the only woman who took part: Flore de Durfort (see image). The CEO and co-founder of Point Twelve, she presented her concept with confidence and style, describing how she, along with her business partners, can help companies get their hydrogen products certified quickly and easily in a largely automated process. De Durfort explained to H2-international: “The IoT and SaaS platform offered by Point Twelve makes it possible for manufacturers of energy-intensive products to easily and continuously certify and monetize their production as green. By automating old, manual, opaque and unscalable certification and verification processes, we generate a process time saving of up to 90 percent and create trust in green products.”
She added: “The initial difficulty lies in the certification of sustainable gases and fuels, particularly those produced from green, renewable power and hydrogen. We made a conscious decision to start with hydrogen certification – a key element in industrial decarbonization and where problems around certification and readiness to outsource are at their greatest.”
The Hydroverse Convention was organized by H2UB, an Essen-based company with eight members of staff that is dedicated to fostering links between corporations, universities, research institutes and investors. The company receives support from the economy ministry of Nordrhein-Westfalen as well as from its four shareholders: OGE, RAG-Stiftung, TÜV Süd and the German Aerospace Center.
Increasingly more festivals are committing to sustainability. Not only in Wacken, which this year – once again – made headlines due to the mud fights there, has not only green electricity but also hydrogen been employed. Also in Lingen at this year’s Lautfeuer festival on July 7 and 8 were the stage, lighting and other equipment almost entirely powered with green electricity from hydrogen-run generators.
Since 1981, an “Abifestival” has taken place every year in Lingen that attracts up to 20,000 guests under the motto of “Umsonst & Draußen” (free and outdoors). In collaboration with the H2 Region Emsland and with support from the City of Lingen as well as the respective regional district, an energy concept was developed already last year in which a fuel cell is used instead of conventional diesel generators. “For this novel approach, Lautfeuer received the German event industry’s innovation prize,” notified Ines Fischer, chairwoman of Abifestival seit 1981 e.V. This year, a second fuel cell was added, so nearly everything was able to be powered this way.
GP Joule has been supporting Wacken Open Air as early as 2018 and supplies the metal festival in Northern Germany with electricity from green hydrogen. The self-produced H2 gas is converted to electricity in two H₂Genset modules from SFC Energy. The electricity obtained from renewable energy will then be used from the opening on Monday, July 31 until the end of the festival. Additionally, GP Joule is deploying one of its eFarm hydrogen buses as a shuttle for the guests.
CEO Ove Petersen stated, “Green and black – that goes together in the North. Wacken Open Air and GP Joule are proving it.” Peter Podesser, CEO of SFC Energy, supplemented, “Fuel cells based on green hydrogen are a perfect solution for secure, mobile energy supply for open air events.”