Formidable plans to construct a €2.5bn hydrogen pipeline below the ocean between Spain and France are exposing divisions amongst companies over the easiest way to move power from southern Europe to the continent’s northern industrial heartland.
The EU and a few massive power firms are betting on “inexperienced” hydrogen — produced from water utilizing renewable power — as a long-term resolution to pure gasoline shortages and a option to speed up cuts in greenhouse gasoline emissions.
However whereas France, Spain and Portugal are backing the long-distance export of the clean-burning gas by way of undersea pipeline, some enterprise leaders argue that it’s electrical energy that must be exported so it may be used to make hydrogen near the place it is going to be used, notably German industrial hubs.
Inexperienced hydrogen’s potential is unproven as it isn’t but produced on a commercially helpful scale. Nonetheless, advocates say it’s going to finally be burnt in massive volumes to supply power to run factories, vans and ships, and also will function a chemical feedstock and power retailer.
If they’re proper, the talk over transporting the gasoline or its derivatives round Europe will go a protracted option to figuring out which of the businesses investing in hydrogen revenue probably the most — and which lose out.
Cepsa, Spain’s second-biggest oil firm by income, has aligned itself with the Barcelona-Marseille pipeline plans. It struck a deal with the port of Rotterdam in September to create a “inexperienced hydrogen hall” to deliver the gas from Spain — which desires to change into Europe’s photo voltaic superpower — to northern Europe.
The hall will initially, from 2027, be a transport route as Cepsa plans to transform inexperienced hydrogen into ammonia then transport it by boat from the Spanish port of Algeciras. However Maarten Wetselaar, Cepsa chief govt, instructed the Monetary Instances the corporate would “completely” use the undersea pipeline, which is because of be accomplished by 2030. “When the pipeline is there and sufficiently big, it’s straightforward for us to scale up,” he mentioned.
The inexperienced hydrogen will come from deliberate Cepsa crops in Campo de Gibraltar and Palos de la Frontera that may produce as much as 300,000 tonnes of gas a yr. They’ll price the corporate a complete of €3bn and be powered by photo voltaic and wind energy services on which it’s going to spend one other €2bn. Hydrogen will probably be carried from the crops to Barcelona by a home pipeline community nonetheless being deliberate by Enagás, Spain’s nationwide gasoline grid operator. To achieve Germany by pipeline, France would additionally have to construct a community working north from Marseille.
The EU goals to supply 10mn tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2030 and match it with the identical quantity of imports, in line with plans for REPowerEU, an power transition fund.
Iberdrola, Spain’s greatest power firm, can also be investing in hydrogen manufacturing however has taken an opposing place on the undersea pipeline.
“Essentially the most environment friendly option to produce hydrogen is regionally, transporting the inexperienced electrical energy wanted to make it from elsewhere, if essential,” mentioned Ignacio Galán, govt chair.
The argument in opposition to hydrogen pipelines is that they’d price greater than pure gasoline pipelines and entail massive engineering and security challenges as a result of the know-how for long-distance transportation of the gas, which is very flammable, doesn’t but exist.
Iberdrola’s investments assume hydrogen will probably be used primarily by heavy business close to the place it’s made. It owns one of many few services in Spain that’s already producing the gas, albeit on a trial foundation. The set up in Puertollano, Castile-La Mancha, features a 100MW photo voltaic array that powers an electrolyser to separate hydrogen from water, then sends it to an adjoining plant the place one other firm, Fertiberia, makes use of it to make fertiliser.
For Germany, Iberdrola’s imaginative and prescient dictates that the easiest way to safe hydrogen provides could be to supply the gas itself utilizing electrical energy generated by renewables. This might embrace energy despatched by cable throughout France from Spain, which desires to capitalise on its sunny climate to supply low-cost, plentiful renewable energy.
“Because of this we’d like extra electrical energy interconnections and extra reinforcement of electrical energy grids,” mentioned Galán, who has beforehand echoed widespread frustration in Spain over the nation’s restricted cross-border hyperlinks with France, which has proven little curiosity in having extra.
One other sceptic on long-distance hydrogen exports is Lluís Noguera, chief govt of X-Elio, one in all Spain’s longest-standing solar energy builders. Whereas he believes renewable energy is important in producing hydrogen, he says not sufficient area to construct energy era services for electrolysers is obtainable subsequent to most metal and cement crops or refineries.
Even when there have been room, the local weather of Europe’s industrial heartland will not be conducive to solar energy, though it’s higher for wind. He cites an X-Elio mannequin that calculated the common price of manufacturing solar energy at €40-50 per megawatt hour in Spain however €60-70/MWh in Belgium, which is healthier positioned to produce Germany.
As a substitute, Noguera mentioned, electrical energy must be produced the place the solar shines then despatched by way of the grid to industrial websites so “the renewable energy comes from the place it is smart to supply it and the hydrogen comes from the place it is smart to devour it”.
Hydrogen export advocates counter that it is going to be cheaper to maneuver hydrogen than electrical energy. It could price €5/MWh to move the gasoline in a 1,000km pipeline versus €12/MWh to ship the equal electrical energy by way of an overhead AC energy line, in line with the European Hydrogen Spine, a gaggle of pro-pipeline power operators. In addition they say that extra power is misplaced in transmitting electrical energy than in piping hydrogen.
Cepsa’s Wetselaar mentioned the principle flaw within the argument for exporting electrical energy was that Europe’s grid was “undersized” and regarded set to stay so. It is not going to have the capability to move loads of energy to supply hydrogen, particularly as soon as demand for electrical autos accelerates, as a result of it’s a lot tougher to safe environmental approval for high-voltage cables than it’s for subterranean pipelines.
“It’s a bit theoretical, as a result of governments would like to put money into the grid however they’ll’t get the permits,” he mentioned.
Map by Liz Faunce
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