The German Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, DWV, is committed to helping achieve equal treatment of renewable electricity-based fuel sources to that of biofuels under the law. In a recently published paper, it argues in typical German bureaucratese that hydrogen offered more advantages and fewer drawbacks than biogenic fuels and should at least be treated in the same way.
According to the Berlin-based association, such equal treatment would create incentives for the private sector to develop business models based on electrolyzers and power-to-gas systems in the foreseeable future. To the DWV, this would meet one of the essential requirements for storing large amounts of power. There were already enough solar and wind farms available, but it had become increasingly difficult to utilize their production.
One of DWV’s board members and manager at Vattenfall Europe, Oliver Weinmann, explained: “Solar and wind energy have become the most inexpensive method to produce power.” As an example, he mentioned French energy supplier EDF, who receives EUR 110 per megawatt-hour for the planned Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the UK. By contrast, the price in wind farm bids was half as much. Since recently, bidders proposing offshore wind farms had been able to do without any kind of subsidy and still be awarded the contract, he said.
DWV’s chair, Werner Diwald, said that the current legislative framework at EU level was a major hurdle to clear. In Germany, some groups in business and politics saw no need to change anything about the status quo or simply had no interest in doing so. Particularly the German environment and the economy ministry had been unwilling to listen to any advice and were pointing to European regulations.
Some concessions could be obtained through the European Hydrogen Europe industry association, Diwald added, but the change in legislation as called for by the DWV hadn’t happened yet – although only a few lines would need to be added to the text of the law.
Environment ministry: fear of one’s own courage
The environment ministry – which as recently as 2015 had said hydrogen was “an option for a future energy strategy – sometime after 2050” (see October 2015 issue of H2-international) – seems to have done a 180-degree turn. For example, a position paper published by the ministry in March 2016 stated: “Only by using power-to-gas and/or power-to-liquid will there be any possibility of establishing renewable-only energy supply in the long term without utilizing biomass crops. Guaranteeing the longtime availability of power-to-gas and/or power-to-liquid is of paramount importance and must be considered when designing a transformation policy.” Biomass is viewed as problematic because its use would put it in direct competition with food crops.
However, it’s not like the ministry doesn’t see any issues with power-to-X: “The current renewably generated surplus energy is far from enough to make power-to-gas or power-to-liquid plants economically viable.” It fears that the operation of large-scale systems in Germany could lead to an increased use of conventional power plants, which “has to be prevented, as it would gravely endanger the objective of meeting the climate targets.” It recommends putting only a limited number of power-to-gas and power-to-liquid systems into operation over the next years.
The DWV has criticized the ministry’s perspective as being too shortsighted. Diwald believes that the energy grid would become much more sustainable if there were added measures to promote renewables and if their use were not artificially limited. He said that together, they would need to look for sensible options to avoid “stranded investments” in new power lines.
In the fall of 2016, Rainer Baake, state secretary at the environment ministry, who had always been extremely critical of hydrogen, admitted: “Power-to-gas is becoming increasingly important to us.”
Social Democrats want green hydrogen
At least some politicians seem to have gotten the message. On June 21, 2017, the Social Democrats presented an 8-page position paper calling for “more renewables, more hydrogen and a climate protection act.” Under the slogan “Invest in Job Growth, Innovation, Climate Protection and a Healthy Future,” the authors state the need for “a considerable increase in the renewable expansion targets to include supply in the heat and transportation sector.” Regarding the further increase in renewable production, the paper says: “We favor utilization over having to switch off renewable power plants.”
Christian Democratic Union: H2 is indispensable
Likewise, hydrogen has found its way into policy discussions among members of the Christian Democrats. Enak Ferlemann, parliamentary state secretary at the German transportation ministry, explained in June: “Investment, cooperation and innovation are the three pillars of our hydrogen strategy. Hydrogen and fuel cells in transportation are an indispensable alternative and addition to battery vehicles, which have their power and range limitations. It is how we will meet our objective of more freedom of movement at lower emissions.”
Greens intent on promoting power-to-gas
On behalf of the Green Party, Julia Verlinden, spokesperson for energy policy, said about hydrogen and power-to-gas: “We see this technological pathway as an important component of transforming the energy industry – in all areas.” And further: “We intend to gradually replace oil products over the next two decades and use economic incentives to facilitate the entry into green transportation based on electric vehicles. We aim to promote power-to-gas, meaning fuels produced by renewable electricity. […] Instead of limiting wind energy production, eco-power should be utilized in a sensible way on-site. It could be stored in hydrogen and fed into the natural gas grid or be transferred directly through storage units into heating systems.”
Dietrich von Tengg-Kobligk, the Green’s advisor on climate and energy issues in Brandenburg’s state government, explained: “Investment in power-to-gas and similar technologies is being slowed down by the power market’s current high excess capacities and low prices.” He added: “The relatively low overall efficiency of power-to-gas and the potentially short annual full-load cycle of electrolysis systems – considering available surplus in renewable power – lead to high costs that restrict the range of sensible uses […].”
Price per kilo of H2 dwindles
Jörg Wind from Daimler explained during the 5th Hydrogen Day on July 6 in Lampoldshausen that the automaker expected hydrogen to cost around EUR 8 per kilogram in 2020 and that the price would go as far down as EUR 6 by 2030. He pointed to a 2012 study titled “Long-time Scenarios and Strategies for the Deployment of Renewable Energies in Germany in View of European and Global Developments” published jointly by the environment ministry, the German Aerospace Center and Fraunhofer IWES.