Germany turns to hydrogen to push energy transition

The northern German states aim to rely on hydrogen technology alongside wind power during the country’s energy transition (Energiewende), a conference of experts on green hydrogen was told here on Monday.

“The north has a huge chance with its wind farms,” emphasized Enak Ferlemann, parliamentary state secretary of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport.

Excess electricity generated by wind farms in northern Germany could be converted into environmentally friendly hydrogen and thus stored and transported more easily, according to Ferlemann.

In contrast to “grey hydrogen,” which is produced from natural gas, “green hydrogen,” produced using wind, has been considered a more climate-friendly energy solution.

In addition to offshore wind farms in the north of Germany, Ferlemann suggested building artificial islands where the electricity generated could be converted directly into hydrogen.

Ships could either use this “green hydrogen” produced at the platforms to refuel or bring it ashore, he said.

Michael Westhagemann, Hamburg’s senator for economics, transport and innovation, agreed that electricity generated offshore could be brought ashore, converted into hydrogen and stored there.

“The conditions for this are in place,” he said, arguing that these hydrogen conversion processes would not make the planned power transmission lines between the north and the south of Germany obsolete.

Olaf Lies, environment minister for the state of Lower Saxony, agreed that Germany needed both “the consistent expansion of all (energy transmission) routes as well as hydrogen technology.”

One problem is that hydrogen technology is relatively expensive and it has not yet attracted sufficient consumer demand because the focus is on electric mobility, argued Ferlemann.

“It is no use producing if demand is not there,” he said, suggesting that as a first step, German municipalities should buy hydrogen-powered buses.

Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that her government would develop a national hydrogen strategy by the end of this year.

Hydrogen technology could help the German transport sector, particularly the aviation industry, demonstrate that economic growth “is not always associated with more growth in climate-damaging emissions,” according to Merkel.

By 2030, the German government plans to increase the share of renewables in electricity consumption to 65 percent.

While a large part of this renewable power will be generated in the windy north of Germany, several large industrial consumers are located in the south and west of the country.

Three major power transmission lines have been in the planning phase for many years, which would bring green electricity from the north to the industrial south and west of Germany. However, these plans have faced strong public opposition.