Germany Moves Into Hydrogen With Lessons From OPEC and Russia

Ministers are cutting deals in Europe and Africa to ensure supply of the fuel from many sources.

A hydrogen fuel pump stands at a Royal Dutch Shell Plc filling station in Sindelfingen, Germany.

A hydrogen fuel pump stands at a Royal Dutch Shell Plc filling station in Sindelfingen, Germany. Photographer: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg

Germany is taking its first steps to build an economy based on hydrogen instead of fossil fuels, seeking to deliver both green growth and to avoid being trapped by a small cartel of suppliers.

Ministers have been quietly lining up deals with nations including Nigeria that might produce hydrogen from renewable energy in the near future. The ambition is to reduce Germany’s pollution from oil and natural gas — and to cut reliance on the countries that produce the fuels.

Chancellor Angela Merkel government is looking to meet goals under the Paris Agreement on climate change. That will require a fuel like hydrogen, which can both provide heat for heavy industry and store excess electricity generated by renewables when it’s most sunny and windy. Ministers are concerned that importing more hydrogen may leave Germany dependent on places with the capacity to produce the most, like Russia and OPEC nations that already supply much of the nation’s energy.

“Unhindered competition will be the mainspring of this global economy,” said Wolf-Dieter Lukas, state secretary in the Education & Research Ministries, one of the wings of government working on the strategy. “Unlike in the oil economy, I don’t expect cartel formation.”

Four separate ministries in Berlin have been working on a blueprint to substitute the lightest element for oil, natural gas and coal. The program is due to be announced later this month by Economy Minister Peter Altmaier.

Altmaier in the middle of last year set the goal of making Germany No. 1 in hydrogen. The world’s most abundant element is an attractive climate solution because it creates only water vapor when burned — and can supply the temperatures of 1,000-degrees Celsius or more needed by industries from cement to steelmaking and oil refining.

Fossil Dependency

Germany depends on fossil fuels for its primary energy and most is imported 80% of Germany’s primary energy sources — 3,600 TW-h in 2019 — are imported

“Hydrogen isn’t the perfect solution, but it seems to the best available so far, especially for the industry to decarbonize production.” said Fabian Huneke, senior expert at Energy Brainpool. “You can’t really design an energy system with more than 70% of renewables in the energy mix, without hydrogen.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is about to sign off on a hydrogen strategy for the next decade and beyond. That plan is informed by lessons learned in decades of importing oil and gas, where price and supply are distorted by a cartel, said a top aide. Oil accounts for more than a third of Germany’s primary energy use. And gas, a growing fuel in power generation, mostly comes from Russia.

Green Hydrogen Future

German primary energy needs will fall by 2050 but still rely on imports

Primary energy usage to drop 25% from today but most hydrogen will be imported Forecast of Max-Planck-Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion 2019

The hydrogen plan sets out ways to boost supply of hydrogen and what industries will become big consumers, Lukas said. An early first draft of the plan shows that Germany is willing to subsidize the technology initially to spur production capacity in the coming decades — but only up to a point.

To keep import costs down, Germany wants to get hydrogen from many more countries. Last month, it signed a deal with Nigeria to jointly research hydrogen supply chains across 15 nations in West Africa.

That deal and others the government is hoping to draw up would answer two of the main concerns about hydrogen: how to make the gas without boosting emissions and where to obtain the quantities needed.

At the moment, more than two-thirds of the 70 million tons of hydrogen produced a year comes from natural gas. And that process is responsible for about 830 million tons of carbon pollution a year, more than the combined emissions of Britain and Indonesia, according the International Energy Agency.

Hydrogen Hoist

African nations could become an abundant source of hydrogen because wind and solar farms can be built there in great numbers, powering electrolizers that split hydrogen atoms out of water.

Germany is racing to forge hydrogen production deals with partner states abroad that fulfill several basic conditions. Those include political stability, a sunny climate and a proximity to the sea for desalinating water for electrolysis, according to Lukas.

The many uses of hydrogen

Future leaders in the hydrogen economy like Germany, Japan and South Korea will sign up emerging market states in bilateral production deals that exceed the number of countries in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, he said. That in theory would mean enough competition to keep down prices.

Germany may import as much as 45 million tons of green hydrogen annually by mid-century, up from zero today, according to Lukas’ ministry.

Like the Rainbow

As more and more states sign up to hydrogen production deals, “prices will continue to drop,” he said. This will make hydrogen “more and more popular and create a chance to move away from our dependency on the oil economy and its cartel agreements.”

Lukas’ ministry compiled an “Atlas of Potentials,” for partnerships, targeting initially 15 nations in the ECOWAS bloc — the Economic Community of West African States, according to its website. It signed a cooperation deal with Nigeria last month.

The German government also plans to air its strategy to scores of emerging market energy ministers at the annual Berlin Energy Days congress later in March. Australia and Saudi Arabia are also potential partners. SOURCE

The Tragedy of Germany’s Energy Experiment

The country is moving beyond nuclear power. But at what cost?

Credit…Ronald Wittek/EPA, via Shutterstock

HAMBURG, Germany — Are the Germans irrational? Steven Pinker seems to think so. Professor Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, told the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel recently that if mankind wanted to stop climate change without stopping economic growth too, the world needed more nuclear energy, not less. Germany’s decision to step out of nuclear, he agreed, was “paranoid.”

My country has embarked on a unique experiment indeed. The Merkel government has decided to phase out both nuclear power and coal plants. The last German reactor is scheduled to shut down by the end of 2022, the last coal-fired plant by 2038. At the same time, the government has encouraged the purchase of climate-friendly electric cars — increasing the demand for electrical power. And despite efforts to save energy in the past decades, Germany’s power consumption has grown by 10 percent since 1990.

Skeptics fear that the country is on a risky path. Sufficient renewable energy sources might not be available in time to compensate for the loss of fossil and nuclear power. Though renewables account for around 40 percent of Germany’s electricity supply, there are limits to further expansion, for reasons that are political rather than technological.

In some rural parts of Germany, people are fed up with ever growing “wind parks”; more citizens are protesting new — and often taller — wind turbines in their neighborhoods. And there is growing resistance to the new paths needed to transport electricity from coasts to industrial centers. According to official calculations, close to 3,700 miles of new power lines are required to make Germany’s “Energiewende,” or energy revolution, work. By the end of 2018, only 93 miles had been built.

The plan risks more than a shortfall in supply. It could also prevent the country from dealing with climate change. By shutting down nuclear plants faster than those for coal, Germany may consign itself to dependence on fossil fuels, and all the damage to the climate they cause, for longer than necessary. Nevertheless, Germans’ opposition to nuclear power endures: 60 percent of them want to get rid of it as soon as possible.
Paranoia is not exactly the right word to describe the attitude behind these figures, though. Rather, it is the very German trait of freezing when faced with a dilemma. For a nation that is as keen as ours to do what would undoubtedly be considered good, choosing between two evils — here, nuclear power and climate change — is a nearly insurmountable task.
Nuclear energy, to start with, is ultimately not safe, and the Germans have always been particularly uneasy with it. After the nuclear accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011, Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered the “Atomausstieg,” the exit from nuclear energy once and for all. Why? Because, as Ms. Merkel put it back then: “The residual risk of nuclear energy can be accepted only if one is convinced that — as far as it is humanly possible to judge — it won’t come to pass.” After Fukushima, Ms. Merkel, a trained physicist, was no longer able to believe that a nuclear disaster would not occur. That there was a catastrophe even in a high-tech country like Japan made her change her mind.
But what about the near-certain catastrophic consequences of the second evil, climate change enhanced by coal-fired plants? Ms. Merkel recognized recently that “climate change is happening faster than we had thought a couple of years ago.” At the same time, she had to admit that Germany was struggling to fulfill the promises of the Paris climate accord: Despite new hopeful figures, the targeted 40 percent reduction of carbon emissions by the end of 2020 may not be met. One could argue that knowledge about the severity of climate change has deepened since 2011 and that countries should do everything they can to shift away from fossil fuels — yet there’s no sign that Ms. Merkel might change her mind about scrapping nuclear.

A return to nuclear appears to be completely unthinkable for the Green Party, the probable future coalition partner of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats. The Greens have their roots in the antinuclear movement of the early 1980s: Resistance against nuclear power is in the party’s DNA. But so is the fight against climate change.

Confronted with these competing convictions, the Greens seem to have no good answer. When Annalena Baerbock, the co-leader of the party, was asked on national television if the country should stick with nuclear power longer to allow a quicker shutdown of coal plants, she rejected the idea emphatically. “No one in this country wants nuclear waste buried in his neighbor’s garden,” she said.

That is certainly true. It is also true that nuclear energy enriches companies while shifting the risk of atomic waste and technological failure onto society. But this calculus is true for heavily carbon-dioxide-emitting coal power, too.

The tragedy about Germany’s energy experiment is that the country’s almost religious antinuclear attitude doesn’t leave room for advances in technology. Scientists in America, Russia and China believe that it is possible to run nuclear power plants on radioactive waste — which might solve the problem of how to store used fuel elements, one of the core arguments against nuclear. Certainly, these so-called fast breeder reactors have their dangers too. But as we transition to a completely renewable energy supply, wouldn’t they be a better alternative to coal and gas plants?

By shutting down its entire nuclear sector in a rush, Germany loses more opportunities than dangers. It forfeits the capacity to connect to a technology that might prove the safest and most climate-friendly mankind has yet seen. At the very least, using Germany’s existing nuclear plants would make an expeditious move away from fossil fuels possible.

Is it irrational not to do so? Maybe, maybe not. But letting this chance slip away could turn out to be one of the gravest mistakes of the Merkel era. SOURCE


Germany cuts fares for long-distance rail travel in response to climate crisis

Cheaper fares as Deutsche Bahn passes on to customers the government’s cut on VAT

Travellers taking trips of more than 50km on Deutsche Bahn’s Intercity Express trains can look forward to fare decreases of 10%. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Fares for long-distance rail travel in Germany have dropped for the first time in 17 years, as climate protection measures aimed at making train travel more attractive came into effect with the new year.

Travellers taking trips of more than 50km (31 miles) on Deutsche Bahn’s Intercity Express trains can look forward to fare decreases of 10%.

The company is also cutting prices on special offers and additional services, such as transporting bicycles.

The trend in Germany stands in contrast to the situation in the UK, where millions of commuters face a 2.7% rise in ticket prices from 2 January.

The cheaper tickets are a result of Deutsche Bahn passing on to customers the government’s cut in value-added tax on rail travel, from 19% to 7%. The UK does not charge VAT on rail fares.

The company said it believed the price drop would bring in another 5 million passengers per year.

Germany’s main provider of rail services is a private company in which the state is the single shareholder. Plans to sell off up to 49.9% of the company to private providers were abandoned with the onset of the 2007-08 financial crisis.

Not all commuters in Germany will get cheaper fares in 2020. Fares for short-distance travel and public transport in regions such as Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, Brandenburg and the Rhineland are set to increase, the news agency dpa reported this week.

Fares for regional trains in the Bonn area are due to rise by 2.5%, while people in Berlin and Brandenburg face a 3.3% increase in the cost of tickets for bus, tram and subway travel. Public transport providers say the fare increases are due to rising wages and higher prices of diesel and electricity and were agreed before the government passed its climate protection measures. SOURCE

Germany to close all 84 of its coal-fired power plants, will rely primarily on renewable energy

FILE---In this Jan.6, 2019 file photo water vapour rises from the cooling towers of the Joenschwald

In this Jan.6, 2019, file photo water vapor rises from the cooling towers of the Joenschwalde lignite-fired power plant of Lausitz Energie Bergbau AG in Brandenburg, Germany. (Patrick Pleul / AP)
Germany, one of the world’s biggest consumers of coal, will shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power plants over the next 19 years to meet its international commitments in the fight against climate change, a government commission said Saturday.

The announcement marked a significant shift for Europe’s largest country — a nation that had long been a leader on cutting CO2 emissions before turning into a laggard in recent years and badly missing its reduction targets. Coal plants account for 40% of Germany’s electricity, itself a reduction from recent years when coal dominated power production.

“This is an historic accomplishment,” said Ronald Pofalla, chairman of the 28-member government commission, at a news conference in Berlin following a marathon 21-hour negotiating session that concluded at 6 a.m. Saturday. The breakthrough ended seven months of wrangling. “It was anything but a sure thing. But we did it,” Pofalla said. “There won’t be any more coal-burning plants in Germany by 2038.”

The plan includes some $45 billion in spending to mitigate the pain in coal regions. The commission’s recommendations are expected to be adopted by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.

“It’s a big moment for climate policy in Germany that could make the country a leader once again in fighting climate change,” said Claudia Kemfert, professor for energy economics at the DIW Berlin, the German Institute for Economic Research. “It’s also an important signal for the world that Germany is again getting serious about climate change: a very big industrial nation that depends so much on coal is switching it off.”

Students demonstrate as Coal Commission meets to decide on future production, Berlin, Germany - 25 Jan 2019
Students demonstrate outside the federal chancellery during a meeting of the country’s coal commission in Berlin on Friday (Adam Berry / EPA-EFE/REX)

The decision to quit coal follows an earlier bold energy policy move by the German government, which decided to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022 in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011. MORE

In Germany, Consumers Embrace a Shift to Home Batteries

A growing number of homeowners in Germany are installing batteries to store solar power. As prices for energy storage systems drop, they are adopting a green vision: a solar panel on every roof, an EV in every garage, and a battery in every basement.

A photovoltaic system on a single-family house in Germany.
A photovoltaic system on a single-family house in Germany. ENERIX

Stefan Paris is a 55-year-old radiologist living in Berlin’s outer suburbs. He, his partner, and their three-year-old daughter share a snug, two-story house with a pool. The Parises, who are expecting a second child, are neither wealthy nor environmental firebrands. Yet the couple opted to spend $36,000 for a home solar system consisting of 26 solar panels, freshly installed on the roof this month, and a smart battery — about the size of a small refrigerator — parked in the cellar.

On sunny days, the photovoltaic panels supply all of the Paris household’s electricity needs and charge their hybrid car’s electric battery, too. Once these basics are covered, the rooftop-generated power feeds into the stationary battery until it’s full — primed for nighttime energy demand and cloudy days. Then, when the battery is topped off, the unit’s digital control system automatically redirects any excess energy into Berlin’s power grid, for which the Parises will be compensated by the local grid operator.

“They convinced me it would pay off in ten years,” explains Paris, referring to Enerix, a Bavaria-based retailer offering solar systems and installation services. “After that, most of our electricity won’t cost us anything.” The investment, he says, is a hedge against rising energy costs. Moreover, the unit’s smart software enables the Parises to monitor the production, consumption, and storage of electricity, as well as track in real time the feed-in of power to the grid. MORE

Renewables overtake coal as Germany’s main energy source

Renewables overtook coal as Germany’s main source of energy for the first time last year, accounting for just over 40 percent of electricity production, research showed on Thursday.

Wind turbines are pictured in RWE Offshore-Windpark Nordsee Ost in the North sea, 30 km from Helgoland, Germany.
Wind turbines are pictured in RWE Offshore-Windpark Nordsee Ost in the North sea, 30 km from Helgoland, Germany, May 11, 2015. REUTERS / Christian Charisius/Pool

The shift is in part due to a surge in solar panel installations and coal-plant closures, research showed Thursday.

The predominance of renewable energy in 2018 brings Germany’s goal for renewable sources to provide 65 percent of its energy by 2030 closer. It is part of an organized, long-term plan to transition from nuclear power by 2022 and to wean the country off coal. MORE