Waiting for the hydrogen strategy

Hydrogen should help Germany make the leap into the CO2-neutral age. The government wants to create the framework for this with a hydrogen strategy. But she just doesn’t want to be finished.

Of course – as almost always these days – Corona is also responsible. The Federal Government, especially the Ministry of Economic Affairs, is to a large extent busy fighting the crisis. In addition, the ministries have also sent many employees to work from home – and the fact that working from home is often less efficient than at work applies to federal officials as well as to others.

The hydrogen strategy should long ago have been decided

But it is also true that the federal government wanted to adopt its hydrogen strategy as early as 2019 – before the corona crisis. "In the current situation, some other things are certainly more urgent," says Michael Theurer, deputy leader of the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag. Nevertheless, Corona could "not serve as an excuse".

A first draft of the Ministry of Economic Affairs’s strategy comes from January, but there is still no date for a decision in the cabinet. When it comes to hydrogen, Germany continues to lose ground internationally, complains Greens parliamentary deputy Oliver Krischer.

But the government and the ministries involved, including the ministries of research and the environment in addition to the economic department, apparently still need time. Whether in person, by telephone or video conference – conversations continue to take place behind closed doors. The lines of conflict seem to run less along the party lines – the CDU ministers Peter Altmaier (economy) and Anja Karliczek (research) versus SPD minister Svenja Schulze (environment) – but rather between the leading Ministry of Economic Affairs and the research and environment departments.

Karliczek has ambitious goals

Karliczek (CDU) is pushing for ambitious goals: as much hydrogen as possible should be used in Germany’s industry by 2030 and replace energy from fossil fuels. The SPD-led Environment Ministry demands "the most concrete measures possible so that hydrogen producers have safe customers and can ramp up their production and industry (e.g. steel) has secure access to ‘green’ hydrogen".

"Green" hydrogen – that’s what matters to the Environment Minister. "Hydrogen will only lead us into the post-fossil age if it is produced from green electricity," Schulze told the ARD capital studio.

The minister does not speak of "blue" hydrogen. It is made from gas, for example, with the CO2 that is created being stored underground. CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) is the name of this process, which has not caught on in Germany.

Clear right of way for "green" hydrogen

The Greens also see the use of hydrogen other than "green" as a detour on the way to climate neutrality. Fractional Vice Krischer thinks that fossil hydrogen should at best be used "in research and demo applications". Otherwise, Germany must now "go into the phase of industrial applications. And it must be clear that only green hydrogen is used."

The FDP sees it differently – and mourns the CCS technology. "Blue" hydrogen and CCS should play a role as a transition technology, says parliamentary group vice-president Theurer. Germany once led the way, there had been "successful model projects in Lusatia", but "politically motivated concerns" had unsettled the population.

Altmaier also relies on "blue" hydrogen

For Economics Minister Altmaier, "blue" hydrogen as a transition technology offers the opportunity to develop markets and reduce costs. The CDU-led ministry writes that it is in discussion with the departments.

The Research Ministry, which is also run by the CDU, focuses on "green" hydrogen. Minister Karliczek told the ARD capital studio that she wanted to "invest resolutely in ‘green’ hydrogen and become the technology leader and export world champion in the field of environment and climate". Only the "green" hydrogen is generated from wind and solar energy in a climate-friendly way.

But where should all the electricity from wind and solar energy come from, which is necessary to produce a significant amount of hydrogen in Germany? It is clear that the main part of the hydrogen ultimately has to be imported. The real challenge is to produce this proportion from "green" electricity.

Without wind and sun there is no "green" hydrogen

But hydrogen production in Germany is also necessary to show that Germany can do it. However, this requires more electricity from the sun and wind.

Green parliamentary deputy Krischer says the steel industry is ready to invest in hydrogen-based blast furnaces. "But for that we need the massive expansion of renewable energies." Environment Minister Schulze also calls for this: "Anyone who says yes to hydrogen must also say yes to wind turbines and solar systems," she told the ARD capital studio.

And so it becomes clear that the hydrogen strategy is something like the sister of the expansion of green electricity: The eased expansion of wind power and the abolition of the "solar cover", which slows down photovoltaics, should have long been decided. In both cases it is a month-long dispute in the government and between the Union and the SPD. A dispute that began before the Corona crisis – and that continues during the crisis.

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