In the relentless pursuit of combating the climate crisis, Europe’s industrial landscape is undergoing a monumental transformation. The spotlight is trained on sectors like steel, cement, and chemicals, as a new study commissioned by the EU Commission and conducted by Fraunhofer ISI delves into the ramifications of this industrial overhaul on the European energy system across multiple scenarios.
A Green Hydrogen Odyssey
The study underscores that even with significant electrification of process heat, Europe’s industry will demand substantial quantities of green hydrogen by 2050, along with the requisite transport infrastructure. Dr. Tobias Fleiter, the study’s author, reveals in a press release that the research elucidates where the future’s industrial green hydrogen could originate from.
The study brings good tidings, asserting that reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a remarkable 95 percent in Europe’s industrial sector by 2050 is achievable. However, achieving this transformation requires substantial strides. This includes embracing the circular economy, enhancing energy and material efficiency, and hastening the integration and proliferation of climate-neutral production methods across diverse sectors, some even before 2030.
Come 2050, Europe’s energy system will be marked by a sharp spike in demand for electricity and hydrogen. In the industrial realm alone, the need for electricity could surge from slightly over 1000 terawatt hours in 2019 to a range of 1500 to 1850 terawatt hours in 2050, contingent on the specific scenario. The hunger for hydrogen could oscillate between 1350 to 2050 terawatt hours, depending on the extent of electrification.
Industrial Transformation’s Impact
The transition to carbon-neutral industrial production necessitates substantial volumes of carbon-neutral hydrogen and electricity. This becomes particularly relevant for supplying process heat and substituting the current use of natural gas, along with catering to the chemical industry’s needs. It’s important to note that a few intermediates from the chemical and steel sectors contribute significantly to the demand for hydrogen.
Yet, uncertainties shroud how the chemical industry will establish its carbon-neutral value chains globally in the future. Consequently, a scenario variant is calculated, where intermediate products like ammonia, methanol, ethylene, and sponge iron are imported into Europe. This could potentially lower hydrogen demand by about 900 terawatt hours.
Green Hydrogen’s Geographical Fortunes
The study’s findings paint a distinct picture: Europe’s carbon-neutral system pivots on abundant photovoltaic and wind power capacities situated in prime European locations. The study’s model identifies France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Norway as having the largest capacities for green hydrogen production. Should the hydrogen scenario materialize, Finland could also emerge as a significant hydrogen exporter to Europe.
If the cost-effective utilization of renewable energy sites falls short, importing hydrogen from North Africa or the MENA region becomes an economical alternative to fulfill Europe’s needs. The production of green hydrogen through electrolysis finds a sweet spot in regions with ample renewable energy potential and low energy demand. These centers of demand encompass Germany and the Netherlands, distinguished by high population density and a thriving basic chemical industry.
Germany’s Hydrogen Production Dilemma
As the study is rooted in a purely techno-economic optimization of Europe’s carbon-neutral energy system, it lacks consideration for political and social restrictions in its implementation. Thus, it’s not a definitive forecast or a direct template for policymakers. Instead, it can inform strategy development.
The central message for the EU and its member states is that integrating the European system through electricity and hydrogen trading confers cost benefits over national solutions. However, political decisions should factor in the dependency on foreign countries and the pace of renewable expansion.
In the end, Europe possesses the theoretical capability to cost-efficiently supply itself with green hydrogen, even without relying heavily on third countries. The journey towards a green hydrogen-powered Europe is replete with complexities, but the study echoes a resonant note of potential and possibility.