The German National Hydrogen Council (NWR – Nationale Wasserstoffrat) has adopted sustainability criteria for import projects involving renewable hydrogen and power-to-x products at its meeting on 29 October 2021. NWR chairperson Katherina Reiche said that the rapid set-up of the global hydrogen economy is critical to meeting climate goals. Germany is dependent on hydrogen imports in order to meet projected demand. It is decisive therefore in this process to formulate criteria in time for the sustainable production and use of hydrogen.
“If this doesn’t happen there is a danger that the desired effects on the global climate will be counteracted by other effects”, said Reiche. The criteria would make a major contribution to societal acceptance of the hydrogen ramp-up. On the other hand, generally accepted sustainability criteria would have the function of providing reliable competition conditions for companies and investors. The NWR highly values the sustainability criteria’s reference to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, in order to dovetail development goals and hydrogen production.
For potential export countries primarily in the south of the globe, the expansion of hydrogen is associated with both opportunities and risks. For example, it could have a positive effect on the development of local value chains and job creation. Urgently needed direct investment would also result from a global hydrogen economy. For the energy industry of export countries, this would also signal an acceleration in shifting from fossil to renewable energy sources. Finally, according to Reiche, long-term energy partnerships would be created, thus contributing to regional stabilization. Among the risks for hydrogen exporting countries is that the use of renewable electricity for hydrogen exports would extend the operating time of fossil power plants. Because the scare resource of fresh water is needed for the production of hydrogen from electrolysis, there is an additional danger of exacerbating existing water shortages. “The disturbance of ecosystems, land use and distribution conflicts, but also corruption and debt are additional risks in potential export countries that must be avoided through clear sustainability criteria”, warned Reiche.
This requires a packet of accompanying measures: In establishing the framework at an intergovernmental level, the principle of additionality of renewable energy for hydrogen production and an operational method of the relevant plants that serves the system are of key importance. Setting up hydrogen production must also be integrated into a national or regional energy transition. As a significant goal of the SDGs, overcoming energy poverty must be actively advanced in the framework of hydrogen exports. Working towards compliance with human rights and standards to fight corruption should be a prerequisite for any engagement by Germany and Europe. Finally, local civil society stakeholders as well as people affected on site should be involved in the planning, implementation and monitoring of projects and if possible, also financially profit from it.
In the NWR’s view, the CO2 footprint of the hydrogen is the focus of the criteria for individual hydrogen projects. It must be continually certified along the entire value chain. Impact assessments are mandatory in advance of individual projects being implemented. Potential land use conflicts due to competitive situations are to be resolved through effective and transparent participation processes together with the local population, and forced settlements or illegal land grabs must be ruled out. Distribution conflicts and threats to the water supply must also be avoided.
In conclusion Katherina Reiche stated: “The paper developed by the NWR reflects the opportunities and risks of the global hydrogen trade. It addresses both the guidelines for Germany’s intergovernmental engagement as well as project-specific sustainability criteria that should be proactively established by the federal government.”
The German National Hydrogen Council
With the adoption of the National Hydrogen Strategy, the federal government appointed the National Hydrogen Council on 10 June 2020. The Council consists of 26 high-ranking experts from industry, science and civil society who are not involved in public administration. The members of the Hydrogen Council have expertise in the areas of generation, research and innovation, decarbonisation of industry, transport and buildings/heat, infrastructure, international partnerships as well as climate and sustainability. The National Hydrogen Council is led by Katherina Reiche, Chairperson of the Board of Westenergie AG and former Parliamentary State Secretary.
The mission of the German National Hydrogen Council is to advise and support the state secretaries’ committee on hydrogen through proposals and recommendations for action in implementing and further developing Germany’s hydrogen strategy.