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Special edition 2021

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How green hydrogen can contribute to a green transition

By Mirko Kruse and Jan Wedemeier

Green hydrogen has recently advanced to one of the most discussed topics in the green transition of the energy sector. This is due to the fact that (green) hydrogen, which can be generated by renewable energy and water in an electrolyser, helps to overcome the downsides of renewable compared to fossil energy: Renewable energy is quantitatively fluctuating depending on natural conditions such as strength of wind or sun, it is bound on specific locations of favourable weather conditions and it is hardly storable and transportable. Converting green energy into green hydrogen would make it possible to store green energy, transport it and use it on every location at every time it is needed.

HWWI has recently published an article on the potential of green hydrogen in Germany (see right) with the purpose of showing the regional potential of green hydrogen. Since the generation cost of hydrogen is still high, one will have to identify certain application sectors that promise the highest benefit, for instance in terms of CO2 avoidance. On that basis, the analysis of HWWI shows that hydrogen comes into play particularly for sectors with a high energy demand such as industrial applications (steel production, refinery, chemical industries) and certain transport measures. In the field of transport, hydrogen is thereby not likely to substitute electric engines which have an advantage on short routes with low weight to be carried. On longer routes and when heavy weight is involved, for instance with public transport, trucks, ships, or planes, hydrogen engines benefit from a higher energetic density compared to electric engines. Figure 1 presents the regional application potential of hydrogen in the manufacturing industry in German regions (steel production, chemical industry, refinery) while Figure 2 presents the regional application potential in the transport sector (trucks and articulated trucks).

Figure 1: Hydrogen application potential in manufacturing, 2018

Source: Federal Statistical Office (2019); own representation.

Figure 2: Hydrogen application potential in transport, 2018

Source: Federal Statistical Office (2020); own representation.

The figures underline the fact that the production regions for green hydrogen (particularly Northern Germany with its proximity to offshore wind parks in North and Baltic Sea) and application regions (Western and Southern Germany) diverge. A strategy for green hydrogen will therefore not only have to cover the question of generation and decide for promising application sectors but also find a way to transport large amounts of hydrogen to application regions.

Generally, it can be stated that green hydrogen experiences a significant hype at the moment. The EU Green Deal, national hydrogen strategies in several European countries and regional hydrogen strategies show a high growth potential for the hydrogen technology as a building block of green transformation. A long way of development has already been taken and now a rapid implementation is required to set the trend in this technological and structural transformation in international competition. Europe in general and Germany in particular reveal some promising preconditions in this regard.

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Article in Wirtschaftsdienst

"Potenzial grüner Wasserstoff: langer Weg der Entwicklung, kurze Zeit bis zur Umsetzung" (in German)