10 Jun 2020, 13:34
Sören Amelang

Minister calls hydrogen strategy “quantum leap,” but NGOs fear “dead end”

Clean Energy Wire

Germany's hydrogen strategy is a "quantum leap" that will lift the energy transition and climate protection to a "new qualitative level," according to the country's economy and energy minister Peter Altmaier. During a press conference marking the launch of the strategy, he called the initiative the "most important innovation since our decision to support the roll-out of renewables." Research minister Anja Karliczek said the whole world was waking up to the opportunities presented by green hydrogen technologies. "Building a global hydrogen economy offers enormous potential for German plant manufacturers," Karliczek said. Environment minister Svenja Schulze said hydrogen is the "energy of the future" that will give a "double boost" to the climate and jobs. "Above all, we will sell the technology – we're really good at that in Germany," Schulze told the public broadcaster ARD.

Business associations welcomed the strategy, but not without criticism. The industry lobby group BDI said it "creates the prerequisites for an energy transition that more closely intermeshes industrial and climate policy," but criticised the government for missing the chance to use transport's potential for the hydrogen roll-out. The association of municipal utilities (VKU) lamented that the paper hardly mentioned the possibilities of decentralised hydrogen production. "There are considerable opportunities to cover regional or local hydrogen demand and to make a local contribution to system stability and supply security," the VKU said, adding that Germany should aim for a more ambitious domestic electrolysis capacity that does not solely focus on industrial-scale production. The offshore wind association BWO said the capacities for making green hydrogen at sea must be auctioned in addition to Germany's existing goal of having 20 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy by 2030. "Otherwise we will have won nothing in the end."

Environmental organisations stressed the importance of hydrogen for climate protection, but some said Germany's strategy was beset by major flows. Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) said the strategy would lead Germany into a dead end. The plan "does not serve the goal of leading Germany to a climate-neutral energy supply as quickly as possible. It perpetuates high energy consumption by ignoring central requirements for energy saving and energy efficiency, and thus leads the country into a high import dependence," the BUND said. The WWF said the strategy did not pay enough attention to the necessary roll-out of renewable energies and the social and environmental aspects of hydrogen production. "Imports of green hydrogen from renewable sources must always be an addition to domestic energy transition efforts. They are no substitute for the need to massively promote the expansion of renewables in Germany." The NGOs also emphasised the need to limit the use of hydrogen in the transport sector to vehicles that cannot be powered directly by electricity, such as ships and planes. They warned against using hydrogen in cars or in the heating sector given that more efficient alternatives were available for these purposes.

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