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Germany is pinning its hopes on green hydrogen

A National Hydrogen Strategy is intended to step up the use of green hydrogen in the German economy.

Green hydrogen is one of the topics at the Hanover trade fair
Green hydrogen is one of the topics at the Hanover trade fair © picture alliance/dpa

A successful energy transition can be likened to a complex mosaic comprising many different elements. Switching to renewable energies not only involves building solar power plants and wind turbines, but also requires new power lines and charging points for electric cars. One key element in the energy transition mosaic is green hydrogen: Its use is to play a crucial role in enabling Germany to become a climate-neutral industrialised country by 2045. The German government has adopted a National Hydrogen Strategy to promote the use of this climate-friendly gas.

What is hydrogen - and how can it contribute to the energy transition?

Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. An odourless gas, H2 occurs on Earth in compound form, primarily in water (H2O). In principle, it can therefore be used in large quantities. When hydrogen is combusted with oxygen, all that is produced is water - no climate-harmful emissions.

If hydrogen is really to play an important part in the energy transition, the gas also needs to be produced in a climate-friendly manner. That’s why the term green hydrogen is used only if it is produced by electrolysis using renewable electricity. By contrast, natural gas is used for grey hydrogen, for example. As a result, large quantities of the climate-harmful greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) are produced during the process.

Where can hydrogen be used?

There are many different potential applications. In future, hydrogen is to be used for example to generate electricity in modern gas-fired power plants. These power plants will stabilise the electricity grids in future, as the production of wind and solar power fluctuates considerably by nature. Hydrogen will also play a role in mobility in tomorrow’s world: It will help make transport by lorry, ship and air more climate-friendly.

Last but not least, hydrogen is also vital when it comes to the planned restructuring of the German economy. One example is the energy-intensive steel industry: The industrial giant Thyssenkrupp for instance has set itself the goal of using hydrogen to produce only climate-neutral steel by 2050. Hydrogen is the “key technology that will enable us to make our industry future-proof and sustainable,” says Thyssenkrupp CFO Klaus Keysberg.

What are the goals of the National Hydrogen Strategy?

In 2020, the then German government established the National Hydrogen Strategy, thereby creating a framework for green hydrogen to contribute to the energy transition. In the summer of 2023, the government led by Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz decided to further develop this strategy. One of the changes to the revised strategy was to double the previous target for production capacity: By 2030, capacities for the generation of green hydrogen in Germany are to increase not to 5 gigawatts but to at least 10 gigawatts. The necessary infrastructure is also to be installed: An initial grid comprising more than 1,800 kilometres of hydrogen lines is to be in place by 2028.

“Investments in hydrogen are an investment in our future: in climate protection, in skilled jobs and in energy supply security,” Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck said when the new strategy was unveiled in July 2023. As Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger emphasised: “Hydrogen is the missing piece of the puzzle in the energy transition.”

Is Germany also relying on international cooperation when it comes to hydrogen?

Germany will not be able to meet the demand for green hydrogen on its own. Economics Minister Habeck assumes that roughly two thirds of the hydrogen needed will need to be imported. In this context, the German government is teaming up with numerous international partners. Strategic partnerships are in place for example with countries in South and West Africa, as well as with Australia. This is because the conditions for using wind and solar power to produce hydrogen are particularly favourable in these countries. After all, only in this way will hydrogen be able to play the key role that it is hoped to in the global energy transition.