Hydrogen energy: a suitable solution?
The invasion of Ukraine has highlighted Europe’s dependence on Russian gas supplies and forced the continent to urgently seek alternative suppliers. This crisis could affect the path to decarbonization and greener energy policies, both in the short and long term.
Javier Andaluz, head of climate and energy programs at Ecologists in Action, said: “This energy crisis could end well or badly.” He stressed that it would be positive if the European Union pushed for efficient energy, but negative if it “replaced dependence on Russia with dependence on liquefied natural gas from the United States”. United, whose environmental impact is twice as bad: firstly, because it is produced by ‘fracking’, a particularly harmful technique, and secondly because its transport produces even more CO2″.
“The war will change a lot of things,” admits Enrique Monasterio, director of development and innovation at Ente Vasco de la Energía (Basque Energy Agency). “It confirmed the path that Europe had embarked on in 2016 when it pledged to become a leader in renewable energy technologies. There are two reasons for this: firstly, it is a reduction in energy dependence on Russia, which has a high energy and geopolitical cost – in the past year alone, Europe has paid Russia 60 billion euros for fuel. this has increased the value of the energy industry, which increases new business opportunities.
According to Monasterio, in the short term, the strategy against climate change could be hampered by the urgent need to find immediate alternatives to Russian gas, a problem which has even led to the reactivation of disused coal-fired power stations. However, he argues that in the long term, this situation will accelerate the decarbonization process of Europe, which has proposed carbon neutrality by 2050. Sources reveal that the Spanish Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge (MITECO ) agrees. “The war has intensified the gap between supply and demand, and could accelerate a push for the installation of solar power plants and wind farms.” They suggested that the production of biogas and green hydrogen could also be accelerated and directly connected to the gas grid.
However, Javier Andaluz of Ecologists in Action warns that “this type of infrastructure requires significant planning”, and that projects will not come online for several years.
Monasterio pointed out that the search for quick fixes has reopened the old debate on whether to invest in nuclear energy (the United Kingdom approved the mini nuclear power plants developed by Rolls-Royce, and France succeeded in to ensure that this source of energy is considered “green”), or to develop European gas reserves (there are one billion cubic meters of gas in Spain alone).
For Monasterio, the benefits of nuclear power as a sustainable fuel supply are overshadowed by the high level of risk it entails and the difficulties of disposing of nuclear waste. He sees it as more feasible to invest in the extraction of European gas until the goal of a world powered entirely by renewables is achieved.
Spain has announced increased storage capacity for fuel, to prevent the current situation from lasting until next winter. Monasterio predicted: “It is easier to stockpile in the summer, when prices are lower, but this year will be different as each European country tries to fill 80% of its necessary reserves”. In the short term, Silvia Pastorelli, head of climate and energy campaigns for Greenpeace in Europe, sees demand reduction as the solution. “The cleanest and cheapest energy is the one we don’t use. There is a lot to be done to reduce consumption, such as better insulating homes.” Pastorelli also recommends increasing taxes on energy companies, “who are taking advantage of this crisis”, in order to finance reform projects.
A turning point
“This must be the turning point, where Europe stands up to Russia’s energy blackmail, without losing sight of its goal of creating a ‘green planet’,” said Yaroslav Demcenkov, Ukraine’s deputy energy minister, during the Berlin dialogue on energy transition. Thusday.
German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke has announced an unprecedented push for renewable energy and a circular economy. His British counterpart, Kwasi Kwarteng, said “moving away from fossil fuels not only increases self-sufficiency, it also helps us tackle the biggest crisis of our time, climate change”.
However, this paradigm towards which Europe is moving faster than anyone carries certain risks, the main one being a dependence on lithium and other raw materials. Lemke herself acknowledged this, saying that “dependency is not only about energy, but also about raw materials and supply chains”.
China currently produces more than 60% of the key minerals needed for the environmental transition, and by 2025 it could control up to 75% of the resources needed to transition to electricity-based systems, such as lithium, cobalt and manganese. They also produce the lithium batteries used in electric cars. This leads many to believe that a move towards renewable energy could replace dependence on Russia with dependence on China.
Pastorelli acknowledges this dilemma but is convinced that “this is the best time to move away from a toxic system”, and stresses the need to develop a circular economy. “When people see their bills go down, their perspective changes,” she said optimistically.
For Monasterio, “the main thing is not to choose a single source of renewable energy, but to diversify the supply, because each technology requires different raw materials and has different uses”.
Spain has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to hydrogen energy as a solution for the future, especially in heavy transport and industry.
By 2030, they are expected to produce more hydrogen energy than any other country on the planet.
Nevertheless, Silvia Portelli of Greenpeace Europe, warns that “there is no magic solution that can solve everything”, and considers hydrogen energy as “one of the many elements” which will constitute European energy in the decades to come.
Enrique Monasterio of the Ente Vasco de la Energía (Basque Energy Agency) agrees. “It is still a distant solution because it is too expensive, but its development and use are more easily justified in the current context of high prices, when the price of gas is 100 euros per Mwh.”
However, Javier Andaluz, of Ecologists in Action, fears that there is too much development around this gas “which is neither good for private mobility nor for heating”, and which “requires high pressure , has a low yield (around 25%) and cannot be stored long term”.
Andaluz recalls that “Iceland has been involved in hydrogen for a long time, and has still not expanded its uses”. For this reason, he sees electrification as a better alternative. “The problem is that it has to be very well planned,” he said.