HYDROGEN & SPAIN

Hydrogen happens to the most abundant property in the universe. Yet despite also being the lightest element in the periodic table, its potential role in the global energy matrix is a hefty proposition.

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Decarbonization and the reduction of greenhouse gases are key goals of the G7 bloc.

This has galvanized the best efforts of businesses in nations beyond the group itself.

Around 30 countries already have strategies in place for hydrogen technology.

In the EU, the idea is to establish a so-called European Hydrogen Backbone.

But Climate Action Tracker, which provides an independent scientific gauge of government climate action, indicates that today no European country is on track to contribute to reducing global temperatures to below 2°C by the date established in the Paris Agreement.

Spain in the Race

In a white paper on how to reduce the cost of green hydrogen over the coming decade, Spanish-German engineering company Siemens Gamesa calculates price parity with fossil-based hydrogen by 2030 (for onshore wind) and 2035 (for offshore wind).

Predictably enough, its stipulations for success are the setting of suitable policy frameworks and market mechanisms.

Other requirements for the delivery of low-cost green hydrogen by 2030 are an increase in renewables capacity, the creation of a demand-side market for green hydrogen; supply chain development; and a reliable logistics, storage, and distribution infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the Hydrogen Council calculates a global requirement of up to 6,000GW of newly- installed renewable energy capacity by 2050—up from the current 2,800GW—to generate the anticipated 500 million-ton hydrogen demand.

A Hydrogen Hub

Spain's nifty footwork on the hydrogen stage relies on a EUR1.5 billion investment to be drawn from the EU pandemic recovery fund. It is also planning for EUR9 billion of private-sector investment in related technology by 2030. Having been one of the countries most badly hit by COVID-19, Spain is also to be among the biggest recipients of the fund.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has committed to producing green hydrogen over the coming three years, with Spain to become Europe's preeminent hydrogen producer through renewable sources.

Slashing the cost of green energy is a must in order to gather scale. The US for one is looking to reduce the cost of green hydrogen by 80% to USD1 per kilogram within one decade. Green hydrogen results from electrolysis, itself fuelled by cleaner wind, solar, or hydroelectric power. US engine maker Cummins has committed EUR50 million to building one of the world's largest electrolysis plants for green hydrogen production in central Spain, set to come online in 2023 in Castilla-La Mancha.

But unlike the windmills harassed by the region's most celebrated native, Don Quixote, this plant is anything but imaginary.

Late in 2020 BP, Spanish renewables firm Iberdrola, and gas grid operator Enagas pooled minds to study the potential for solar power in producing green hydrogen.

The immediate target of attention is the partial decarbonization of a refinery in Castellón that is both the greatest producer and consumer of hydrogen in the Valencia region.

The scheme requires the use of electricity from a 40MW PV array, plus other renewable sources to power an electrolysis apparatus with an initial capacity of 20MW, potentially rising to 115MW. Being the biggest green hydrogen project at any Spanish refinery, it involves grey hydrogen generation giving way to green hydrogen. It promises to spare the environment up to 24,000 tons of CO2 per year.

Green hydrogen offers wider applications than energy alone for those nations committed to adopting it.

For example, it can play a part in the decarbonization of the industrial and transportation sectors. Spain is determined to lead the way with battery technology too. With such a focus of attention and sizeable funds for green energy development, some have warned of the risk of so-called 'green-washing,' whereby those funds predominantly end up in the hands of major corporations with other non-green business activities.

If Spain is to realize its green hydrogen hub ambition, it will need to spread the joy to lesser enterprises in a crisply regulated environment.