Nine EU member states, including France, have called on the European Commission to include low-carbon hydrogen – produced from nuclear electricity – in the EU’s renewable hydrogen targets.
France, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary and Czechia made the call in a letter sent to the European Commission on Wednesday evening (1 February).
Their demand is based on the principle of “technological neutrality” and “member states sovereignty and competences to decide of their energy mixes,” as defined in the EU treaties.
These principles were reaffirmed in mid-January by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a bilateral summit in Paris.
At the meeting, Scholz recognised the role of nuclear in attaining EU decarbonisation goals, while Macron agreed not to obstruct the development of the H2Med hydrogen pipeline linking Spain to Germany.
The two leaders even announced a “joint roadmap” for the development of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen.
In their letter, the energy and industry ministers of the nine member states are calling for this “shift in thinking” to be reflected in the EU’s renewable energy directive (RED), which is currently being revised for the third time.
The group is also calling for similar amendments to be introduced in the so-called “gas package” which regulates the production and transport of hydrogen.
“We urge the Commission to propose an amendment for the RED3 draft, in order to align hydrogen and fuels targets in transport and industry with such a technologically neutral approach,” the nine countries write in the letter.
In their view, aiming for “exclusively renewable” targets could hamper the EU’s main objective of cutting emissions to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Together, the nine countries constitute a blocking minority in the EU Council of Ministers, according to the entourage of Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the French energy transition minister.
Low-carbon hydrogen should thus be developed “without any delay or unnecessary constraint,” they write, calling for “ambitious targets” and “equal incentives” to be set for both renewable and low-carbon hydrogen.
Danger from across the Atlantic
At stake is the competitiveness of the EU’s nascent hydrogen industry, the ministers argue.
Leaving low-carbon hydrogen by the wayside would “limit the speed of the development of our hydrogen economy” which would “inevitably elevate hydrogen production costs, with the effect of reducing the global competitiveness of European industry”, they write.
Relying solely on intermittent energies, such as solar or wind power, “restricts electrolyser use and elevates in proportion the cost of hydrogen generation”, they add.
Without incentives for all types of clean hydrogen, EU industries could also be tempted to locate production across the Atlantic, where they would benefit from the billions in subsidies offered under the US Inflation Reduction Act.
To align somewhat with the US, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the ‘Green Deal Industrial Plan’ on Wednesday, which aims to accelerate the development of a decarbonised EU industry.
In the letter, the nine member states argue that low-carbon hydrogen would help “decarbonise key industrial value chains” such as the steel, aluminium and fertiliser industries.
It could also be used as a fuel, for which “frictions or delays in the deployment of these new low-emissions fuels would jeopardise either Europe’s decarbonisation agenda or its economic growth,” the ministers add.
The nine member states also stress that “a strategy relying mainly on renewable hydrogen might lead to new dependencies” and pose a risk for the EU’s energy security.
“Member states that wish to pursue a more self-sufficient supply of low-emission hydrogen from domestic sources should also be allowed to follow this approach”, the letter adds.
Regulatory alignment between low-carbon and renewable hydrogen is also necessary to encourage the development of trans-European transport infrastructure, the ministers add. In that way, Portugal, Spain, France and Germany have already agreed to extend the future H2Med hydrogen pipeline to Germany.
“Any compromise on the gas package and RED III must therefore integrate the recognition of the contribution of all low-carbon hydrogen sources to the decarbonisation,” the nine member states conclude.