Europe is at a crossroads in its pursuit of green hydrogen, a potentially transformative energy source that could revolutionize various sectors while significantly reducing carbon emissions.
A recent study conducted by Fraunhofer ISI, RIFS Potsdam, and the German Energy Agency as part of the HYPAT research project offers a glimpse into Europe’s vast potential for producing green hydrogen at economical prices. However, it also highlights critical challenges and a misalignment in the region’s approach to harnessing this promising energy vector.
The research delved into what experts refer to as the “technical potential” for renewable energy generation, primarily through wind and solar power installations. The study found that Europe is brimming with untapped potential. Norway leads the pack, even without considering its hydropower capabilities. By 2050, Norway could produce over 1,900 terawatt hours of green hydrogen annually, at a remarkably low cost of 40 euros per megawatt-hour. Spain and France follow closely with 1,760 TWh and 1,700 TWh, respectively.
This potential could lay the foundation for Europe to become a major player in the global green hydrogen market, fostering energy security, sustainability, and economic growth.
The study evaluated two scenarios to estimate Europe’s hydrogen requirements. The first scenario focused on applications that are challenging to decarbonize without hydrogen, such as steelmaking, chemicals, aviation, and shipping. The second scenario extended the scope to include building heating systems, trucks, and cars. The ambitious goal was to produce all this hydrogen using electricity from renewables.
This approach would entail a significant increase in electricity consumption, reaching between 6,600 and 8,000 terawatt hours annually for the countries under examination, including the EU, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. This represents more than double the current electricity consumption of approximately 3,000 TWh.
To meet this demand entirely from renewables, Europe’s renewable energy production would need to surge three to fourfold while maintaining the current share of nuclear power. While this may seem like a monumental challenge, the study suggests that Europe’s theoretical renewable potential could indeed cover this escalating demand, even with widespread hydrogen utilization.
Countries like Norway, Spain, and France possess more renewable potential than they would require, even with significant domestic hydrogen usage. However, the study cautiously acknowledges that realizing the entire theoretical potential may not be feasible, particularly in the long term. Additionally, water availability becomes a limiting factor for hydrogen production, emphasizing the complex interplay of resources in green hydrogen generation.
In contrast to its European counterparts, Germany finds itself on a different trajectory. Despite significant efforts, Germany is expected to remain a net hydrogen-importing nation in the foreseeable future. The country’s potential for renewable energy falls significantly short of projected future demand. By 2050, Germany might face the largest absolute supply gap within the EU, raising concerns about energy security and self-sufficiency.
Other European countries grappling with similar hydrogen deficits include the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Czech Republic.
Europe’s journey towards affordable green hydrogen is laden with potential, but it also encounters formidable challenges. As the continent navigates this path, finding a delicate balance between ambitious goals and realistic constraints will be essential.
The study’s findings underscore the importance of strategic planning, collaborative international efforts, and innovative solutions to overcome the challenges posed by hydrogen production and distribution. Europe has the opportunity to be a global leader in green hydrogen, but realizing this potential requires concerted action, substantial investment, and a clear roadmap for a sustainable energy future.