Making the case for green hydrogen

The development of green hydrogen and renewable energy capacities are key to achieving the EU’s goal of cutting CO2 emissions by 60 percent by 2030, writes Damien Carême.
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By Damien Carême

Damien Carême (FR, Greens/EFA) is shadow rapporteur for Parliament’s report on a European Strategy for Hydrogen

04 Feb 2021

The energy sector has the highest CO2 emissions in the EU and the transition to renewable energy is needed urgently, in order to achieve our climate neutrality objective: a 60 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030. This transition requires the immediate, massive and coordinated deployment of all renewable solutions.

Boosting renewables will allow us to further develop a key energy source for our common future - hydrogen produced from 100 percent renewables. However, as things stand, green hydrogen represents only two percent of total production; the remaining 98 percent comes from oil, gas and nuclear energy. These are obsolete energy sources that are counterproductive to achieving the European objective of climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest.

“In addition to its crucial role in the energy transition, green hydrogen will make it possible to decarbonise a number of processes in heavy industries such as steel or cement”

This is why green hydrogen and renewable energy capacities have to be massively developed, starting now. As a first step, hydrogen uses must be limited to the most carbon-intensive sectors where energy efficiency and electrification solutions are difficult.

In addition to its vital role in the energy transition, green hydrogen will make it possible to decarbonise a number of processes in heavy industries, such as steel or cement. This is not an insignificant detail, as industry is the third-highest CO2-emitting sector. Hydrogen could also be a solution for long-distance sea and air transport.

Therefore, using other forms of hydrogen, manufactured from gas or nuclear power for an interim period, is not a solution. On the contrary; it only allows the gas industry to maintain a leading position in energy production, while delaying investments where they are most needed.

All the money currently invested in so-called ‘blue’ hydrogen is needed for development of green hydrogen. There is no time to waste. Using hydrogen from gas, even during a transitional period, is counterproductive and dangerous in terms of climate action, given the methane emissions generated by gas extraction. Methane emissions have a much higher global warming potential than CO2. From an economic point of view, the use of ‘blue hydrogen’ is also not justifiable.

There is no reason to continue producing hydrogen from fossil fuels, as the costs of renewable energies have fallen drastically over the last 10 years, by 82 percent for solar energy and 39 percent for wind. The majority of renewable energy is produced at a lower cost than fossil fuels. And at least 10,300 jobs would be created for every €1bn invested in the field of renewable hydrogen alone. Investing in blue hydrogen will lose a lot of time and money.

Yet within the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee in the European Parliament, the debates are fierce on this issue. A large majority of MEPs from other political groups still support so called ‘lowcarbon’ hydrogen solutions, involving the mixing of pure hydrogen with gas or the injection of hydrogen into gas pipelines. These are all options that the European Commission also proposed in its communication; none of these are sustainable.

“We could make this European hydrogen strategy a powerful opportunity to move towards a decarbonised, delocalised and inclusive energy model”

This is a shame. Instead, we could make this European hydrogen strategy a powerful opportunity to move to a decarbonised, delocalised and inclusive energy model. Indeed, the production of green hydrogen, in order to avoid waste during lengthy transportation, would be located as close as possible to renewable energy plants, and thus as close as possible to citizens and local energy communities.

For this to happen, the EU must support research and innovation into hydrogen production, transport and storage technologies, and massively support the deployment of hydrogen-related green technologies. In 1951, Europe created the European Coal and Steel Community, which had disastrous impacts on the environment and contributed to climate change. It is therefore high time, in 2021, exactly 70 years later, to create a European Post-Carbon Community. This should enable the massive and coordinated deployment of renewable energies and a zero-carbon industry as powerful as the coal and steel industry was at the time.

I therefore invite all my fellow Members of the European Parliament to show their support towards a strategy for green hydrogen, in line with our climate objectives. This same Parliament that declared the climate and environmental emergency in November 2019 must, once again, show its commitment to our climate objectives and encourage the European Commission and the Council to act the same way.

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