‘Europe is never going to be capable of producing its own hydrogen in sufficient quantities’: EU climate chief

Europe’s future clean energy system will rely on imported green hydrogen, according to EU climate chief Frans Timmermans.

“I strongly believe in green hydrogen as the driving force of our energy system of the future,” the European Commissioner for Climate Action told the European Parliament last week. “And I also strongly believe that Europe is never going to be capable to produce its own hydrogen in sufficient quantities.”

Timmermans’ statement surprised some industry observers. “It’s quite incredible that we hear this from a high EU official,” one told Recharge.

Even Timmermans, who is also the commission’s executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, acknowledges that the notion of Europe swapping reliance on imported fossil fuels — particularly from Russia — for reliance on imported green hydrogen is not politically palatable.

“We can’t just wean ourselves from fossil fuels overnight, it’s simply impossible. We will need, in the interim, to diversify our energy supplies from many, many sources — as many as possible, frankly, so that we don’t become dependent too much on one source,” he said.

“If around the Mediterranean, in the widest sense, we can create a diversified interdependence, which means that we all have a stake in this production, distribution, utilization of green hydrogen, this is the future, this is how you also create more stability in the geopolitical system. This is how you offer an enormous opportunity for the development of Africa — 600 million Africans who now have no access to energy will have access to electricity.

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“And at the same time, I was in Egypt and Turkey, of course we have complicated relations with those countries, but those are countries that are going to be producing renewable energy at quantities way beyond their own needs, so they will want to look for somewhere to put this excess.”

This was no slip of the tongue for a commissioner who has previously called for Europe to be more independent, particularly when it comes to the local production of solar panels and electric-vehicle batteries.

Only a few days earlier, on a visit to Turkey, Timmermans told a press conference: “We want to create partnerships because the European Union will need much more hydrogen than we can produce ourselves.

“We want to create partnerships, especially with countries around the Mediterranean, to create a future hydrogen-based economy where we are not dependent on one or two single suppliers but we have a diversification of supplies and demand.”

He told the European Parliament that in the short term at least, Europe will need LNG and “also some pipeline gas as well” from countries that aren’t Russia.

“That’s why I’m going around talking to countries [eg, Turkey and Egypt] that would be interested to do that. But I have to add one thing to that. These countries aren’t stupid. They make the analysis and they say, ‘well, but you’re moving away from fossil fuels. Now you need us, but what about ten years from now, or 15 years from now?’ That’s why what I’m offering, what the Commission is offering is a long-term partnership that would start with LNG and end up in the hydrogen economy.”

The European Hydrogen Strategy, released in the summer of 2020, called for 40GW of electrolysers to be installed in Europe by 2030, with a further 40GW in “Europe’s neighbourhood with export to the EU”.

Felicia Mester, director of public affairs at Brussels-based trade body Hydrogen Europe, told Recharge: “Europe has immense potential to produce renewable and low carbon energy. However, replacing the use of all fossil fuels and decarbonising EU’s economy in record time will require imports.

“It will also require ensuring that all gas assets that are currently reinforced, with a view to ensure security of supply, are hydrogen ready. To put this into perspective – we need to build hydrogen terminals that can use LNG in the short term, not LNG terminals that could be later retrofitted for hydrogen.”

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