22 Mar 2021, 12:17
Julian Wettengel

German regulator paves way for converting natural gas infrastructure to hydrogen

Tagesspiegel Background / Clean Energy Wire

Germany’s Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) has cleared two dozen natural gas transmission pipelines for future conversion to transport hydrogen, reports Christian Schaudwet in Tagesspiegel Background. Several legislative and regulatory steps would still be necessary before pipelines can be converted, writes Tagesspiegel. The network agency accepted operators’ grid development plan 2020-2030 with several requests for changes, allowing the pipelines to be taken out of the current natural gas infrastructure and added to a future hydrogen grid – so long as the performance of the current gas grid is left uncompromised. However, it also said the hydrogen network cannot be part of the natural gas grid development plan, and new rules have to be established first. Operators said the regulators’ action allowed to start on individual projects, but called for an integrated grid plan for both natural gas and hydrogen, as this was the only way to ensure the “establishment of a supra-regional hydrogen network as the backbone for a competitive hydrogen economy”. By accepting the development plan, the network agency also greenlit plans by grid operators to invest 7.83 billion euros in the natural gas infrastructure over the current decade, including to build 1,620 kilometres of pipelines.

Green hydrogen made with renewable energy is considered key to solving some of the energy transitions challenges, such as decarbonising industry processes or long-haul freight transport. However, the current natural gas infrastructure is not fit to handle pure hydrogen. Parts of it could be converted to serve as hydrogen transport infrastructure. In its request for changes to grid development plans, BNetzA writes that converting existing natural gas infrastructure to transport hydrogen is generally much cheaper than building a new network from scratch. German gas grid operators said in 2020 that an initial hydrogen grid could be established at “justifiable cost” of 660 million euros, largely by converting current pipelines.

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