Experts Warn EU Using Carbon-Free Hydrogen For Energy Storage 'Makes No Economic Sense'

Experts Warn EU Using Carbon-Free Hydrogen for Energy Storage 'Makes No Economic Sense'

An expert panel of former European Commission directors warned the EU's executive body on Monday that chasing the Holy Grail of achieving zero-carbon emissions by storing renewable energy in green hydrogen made no economic sense

BRUSSELS (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 07th December, 2020) An expert panel of former European Commission directors warned the EU's executive body on Monday that chasing the Holy Grail of achieving zero-carbon emissions by storing renewable energy in green hydrogen made no economic sense.

Green hydrogen has been all the rage with the Commission of President Ursula von der Leyen, whose Green Deal agenda to decarbonize Europe, making it climate-neutral by 2050, has been chosen as the key strategy for shaping the EU's post-coronavirus future.

In her vision, the bloc's transition to a carbon-free economy relies heavily on green hydrogen, which is produced from water via electrolysis, with electricity coming from solar and wind energy. The two energies, being unpredictable, need a carrier, or "vector," for storage and transportation.

A group of 14 experts all respected engineers and scientists who retired from the Commission have now sent a letter to the EU's main body, warning that "using the hydrogen vector for the massive production of decarbonised electricity for the grid makes no economic sense."

"We strongly encourage the Commission to review its 'Hydrogen Strategy', without the influence of lobbies looking for subsidies, recognising that the massive production of hydrogen from intermittent renewable sources is an illusion," they wrote in a letter seen by Sputnik.

The experts criticized the Commission for relaunching the hydrogen theme under the Green Deal without a full impact assessment, even when decades of research had proved its low efficiency and high economic costs.

They cited Germany as an example of an economy whose decision to phase out nuclear power in favor of renewables cost taxpayers 25 billion Euros ($30 billion) over two decades, while having almost no impact on the decarbonization level.

Germany is most of the time forced to resort to imported Russian gas or fossil fuel to compensate for lack of renewable energy. The quest for a means to store excess green electricity led to rethinking electricity-produced hydrogen, but experts said it was a non-starter.

"The problem is that producing electricity from hydrogen coming from wind power or solar panels only has an efficiency of 28%, corresponding to a loss of energy of 70%," they wrote.

In addition, a huge fleet of large electrolysers would also be used intermittently, "meaning the equivalent of 20% of the time at their full capacity." In case the EU chose to pursue the goal of producing all electricity for the grid from renewables it would mean multiplying the wind and solar power installed capacities by a factor of more than ten.

Samuele Furfari, one of the 14 signatories to the experts' "Call to the European Commission," has told Sputnik that that the hydrogen theme was picked up by the current Commission because it looked good in its communications.

"The Commission needs to present solutions in its strategy. It cannot pretend that we will manage only with wind and solar sources. So, hydrogen has been a dream for a long time.

This sounds very promising in the Commission communication. It makes the buzz!" he said.

The former director at the European Commission's Energy Directorate argued that the Green lobby, a driving force behind the green transition, was itself split on hydrogen. A faction of it is in bed with the gas industry and seeks to promote the use of dirty, gas-based hydrogen to "get the nuclear energy out of the equation."

Responding to Airbus's announcement that it was research options to produce hydrogen-powered aircraft, Furfari said that it was a ploy to appease German and French shareholders.

"It's a form of 'green-washing.' This is part of the global lie. Flying planes on hydrogen is not a solution. Airbus wants to satisfy its shareholders, above all the French and German states," he argued.

Instead, the European Commission should put a ceiling on the deployment of intermittent renewable sources and go for nuclear power production as "the only fully decarbonised Primary energy able to massively produce dispatchable electricity," the experts argued.

Furfari said positions on the use of nuclear energy among EU members were still "very liquid."

"Nothing is won! Even Commission Vice-President [Frans] Timmermans, who was fiercely anti-nuclear a year ago, has watered his wine. He understood that Article 194.2 of the Lisbon Treaty decrees that member states are free to make their energy choices. The Commission does not have the right to impose anything," he said.

Germany had to massively increase its carbon emissions by turning to coal and gas power plants to compensate for the intermittent inefficiency of wind and solar power, while France still relies on nuclear power for 70 percent of electricity generation. Finland, Romania and Poland also "think nuclear," he said.

"Engineers have been saying the same things for 40 years, even 70 years, looking all over the place, overturning every stone. There is nothing to re-invent. We haven't been dumb for 70 years!" the expert stressed.

The expert panel said that hydrogen production would continue to grow worldwide, since it is used, among other things, to produce ammonia, a key component in fertilizers, which are essential for meeting the growing needs of an increasing population.

"For such applications, apart from using electrolysis, the energy required for the dissociation of water could be provided by using direct heat produced in a fully decarbonised way by high temperature nuclear reactors," they said.

The United States, China and Japan are all researching this type of reactors, and the European Union needs to follow suit if it wants to keep abreast of them.

"The European Commission should not only look closely to the topic, but above all invest, if it wants to avoid geopolitical sidelining from other regions where such developments are the order of the day. The post-covid Recovery Plan offers an opportunity. We hope the European Union will not miss it," they concluded.