Spain’s ambitious plans for hydrogen production face a significant hurdle: water vulnerability. According to the latest report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) titled “Water for Hydrogen Production,” over 46% of all green and blue hydrogen projects slated for 2040 in Spain will be situated in regions grappling with severe water scarcity.
The Irena report warns that the deployment of hydrogen projects, critical for Spain’s energy transition, could be severely disrupted or even canceled due to a lack of access to water. This poses a formidable challenge, particularly in a global context where water scarcity is an increasing concern.
Green hydrogen investors, in their quest to reduce electricity costs and maximize capacity factors, have strategically focused on areas with abundant solar photovoltaic resources and wind. However, as the report notes, the sunniest locations are often the driest, presenting a paradox for hydrogen projects. Regions with water scarcity include countries such as Australia, Chile, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Spain, and more.
Within Spain, the report reveals that 40% of the planned hydrogen projects for the next two decades will be located in areas facing extremely high levels of water stress. The breakdown includes 6% at a high degree of stress, 31% at medium-high levels, 11% at low-medium levels, and the remaining 11% at low levels of water stress.
Zooming out to Europe, the continent currently produces 7.5 million tonnes of hydrogen annually, predominantly gray hydrogen. By 2040, the shift to green and blue hydrogen is expected to increase annual production to 25.7 million tonnes. Irena estimates that maintaining current hydrogen production in Europe requires over 150 million cubic meters of fresh water, a figure expected to surge as production increases by approximately 243% by 2040.
To address these challenges, Irena recommends a meticulous evaluation of hydrogen production plans, especially in water-scarce regions. Clear water use standards for the sector must be established and enforced. Encouraging the use of seawater for hydrogen production processes, managing brine, and prioritizing green hydrogen over fossil fuel-based production are essential steps. Policymakers are urged to set clear timelines for the retirement of fossil fuel-based plants and provide robust support for green hydrogen through financing, incentives, and regulatory frameworks.