Is hydrogen renewable or non-renewable

Green or blue: how renewable will hydrogen be?

After the federal government presented its national hydrogen strategy, the European Commission is following suit with its hydrogen strategy as part of the European Green Deal. The reaction to both papers has been mixed - and rightly so, because investments in the sometimes controversial and climate-unfriendly hydrogen technology are high. A press review.

Hydrogen currently makes up less than two percent of the European energy mix, according to Kadri Simson, EU Commissioner for Energy, and Francesco La Camera, Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in a comment for EURACTIV. For the year 2050, they expect that hydrogen can take over between 13 and 14 percent of the energy supply. “Hydrogen is not the answer to all questions in the energy system of the future, but it can solve the most difficult questions,” say Simson and La Camera.

In connection with hydrogen, colors have a special meaning because they indicate the energy carriers from which the hydrogen is obtained. Zeit Online provides a good overview with the representation of the color theory of hydrogen. Here it becomes clear that "gray" hydrogen has so far made up over 90 percent of the hydrogen consumed worldwide and is produced from natural gas with high greenhouse gas emissions. “Green” hydrogen, on the other hand, is obtained by electrolysers splitting water into its constituent parts oxygen and hydrogen with the help of electricity from renewable energies. Aside from the energy-intensive transport, green hydrogen therefore offers a climate-friendly perspective for industry, which is otherwise difficult to decarbonise, and for transport. “Green hydrogen is currently more than twice as expensive as gray hydrogen,” says the color theory of the time. “Experts assume, however, that the price will be halved by at least half by 2050 through improved technology, mass production and falling electricity prices.” In addition to gray and green, there are also turquoise and blue hydrogen, which are also produced from natural gas. However, no CO is produced in either process2 or does not come to the surface of the earth.

Blue hydrogen under fire

An article in the Handelsblatt presents the EU Commission's three-phase plan: First, electrolysers for the production of green hydrogen with an output of up to 100 megawatts are to be expanded. The existing hydrogen production based on natural gas is to be upgraded accordingly in order to cope with the CO2 to be saved using Carbon Capture Storage (CCS). In the second phase until 2030, the use of hydrogen in industry and transport is to be expanded. "Hydrogen Valleys" are planned as part of the European Hydrogen Valleys Partnership (EHV). The EHV is a European association that currently has more than 30 regions in 13 European countries. Many regions combine the same framework conditions and starting points. A typical example are the regions around the North Sea (Northern Germany, Northern Netherlands, Scandinavia and Scotland), which have similar goals in the expansion of renewable energies and the sector coupling of excess wind and mobility and industry. The Commission hopes to create 140,000 jobs by 2030 through the development of the hydrogen economy and estimates the market volume at up to 140 billion euros. Between 2030 and 2050, hydrogen should establish itself as an important component of the energy supply in sectors in which there is no alternative to decarbonization with hydrogen.

“In many places, the EU's hydrogen strategy pursues goals similar to those of the national hydrogen strategy that the Federal Cabinet decided on at the beginning of June. At some points the commission goes beyond the German concept, ”emphasizes the Handelsblatt. The use of blue hydrogen based on natural gas in combination with CCS systems "is unlikely to meet with approval in Germany".

According to the comment by the German Renewable Energy Association (BEE) on the European hydrogen strategy, the argument is that the market development makes it necessary to promote blue and gray hydrogen, which produces considerable amounts of CO2 incurred, not sustainable. “A consistent approach must reduce the entire CO2-Take into account the footprint of hydrogen products and therefore only allows the promotion of green hydrogen ", says BEE President Dr. Simone Peter. “However, it is not enough just to emphasize the importance of green hydrogen. This importance must also be reflected in the ambitious deployment quotas for green hydrogen in the various sectors, ”criticizes Peter. The hydrogen strategies would also have to be combined with an accelerated expansion of renewable energies.

Rock star versus reality

EU commission vice Frans Timmermans describes hydrogen as "the rock star of clean energies", reports the WirtschaftsWoche. The Commission also set up a hydrogen alliance with European companies "to back up the strategy with concrete projects and to mobilize private money". The business associations reacted largely positively to the strategy. The public support could come from several EU pots, capacities from the Corona reconstruction plan “Next Generation EU”, which is supposed to stimulate the economy with 750 million euros, are also conceivable. According to WiWo, the commission expects the construction of electrolysis systems to cost between 24 and 42 billion euros by 2030. In addition, 220 to 340 billion euros will be needed to expand 80 to 120 gigawatts of solar and wind energy systems.

Environmental associations are critical of the influence of industry and the possible promotion of fossil fuels such as natural gas. "The hydrogen alliance is dominated by natural gas producers, criticized the Climate Action Network in Brussels," which the WiWo quotes.
The Environmental Defense Fund points out that with the "interim solution" - the use of natural gas for hydrogen production - not only CO2-Emissions are emitted, but the gas also consists of methane. The EU Commission is scheduled to present a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions next autumn. Hydrogen technology should only be subsidized with regulated methane standards.

Handelsblatt author Klaus Stratmann judges in a comment about the German and the European strategy: “Both papers are saturated with optimism.” Even with a rapid expansion of renewable energies, the electricity will not be sufficient for the targeted production of green hydrogen. That is why the production of green hydrogen is to be relocated to countries with optimal conditions for the generation of renewable electricity. "Many countries, which would be ideally suited due to their climatic and geographical conditions, are politically unstable", criticizes Stratmann and sees this as an obstacle to large-scale hydrogen production. “The countries, on the other hand, that are generally considered for investors, often have completely different problems. First you have to supply your own population with electricity. "

Despite the hype about hydrogen, funds for existing EU climate protection and research programs with “Next Generation EU” are being cut. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that the “Fund for a Just Transition”, which supports the structural change in Europe, receives only a third of the expected budget with ten billion euros. The research funding program “Horizon Europe” also receives only five billion euros instead of 13.5 billion euros.

If the expansion of renewable energies is not consistently promoted and promoted, even the lowest targets for the production of green hydrogen from the EU will not be met.

Photo: Alexander Kirch / Shutterstock

This article was published in Renews, the Renewable Energy Agency's newsletter.


Renewable Energy Agency
Nicola Techel
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