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Spain bets on green hydrogen in clean energy

Spain bets on green hydrogen in clean energy

tech innovation 2022

The production of ‘green’ hydrogen is critical for fuel-cell technology to not generate emissions.

As Europe seeks to move beyond fossil fuels, Spain is moving forward in developing green hydrogen aided by a growing wind and solar power complex in efforts to decarbonize its economy.

According to the Wood Mackenzie consulting firm, Spain accounted for 20 percent of the world’s green hydrogen projects in the first quarter, second only to the United States, which is home to more than half of them.

“A lot of countries are interested in green hydrogen, but in Spain there is a rapid increase in the field”, said Rafael Cosant, research associate professor in energy economics at Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid.

The sector is still in its infancy, but the war in Ukraine has prompted the EU to double its production target for 2030 as part of efforts to reduce dependence on Russian energy supplies.

“Spain has become a very attractive country for green hydrogen,” EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said during a visit to the country in May. “A shift to massively competitive hydrogen is taking place”.

Green hydrogen is produced by passing an electric current through water to split it between hydrogen and oxygen, a process known as electrolysis. It is considered green because electricity comes from renewable sources of energy that do not produce any harmful emissions.

And while fossil fuels emit harmful greenhouse gases when burned, hydrogen only emits harmless water vapor.

The technology is part of the EU’s efforts to become climate neutral by 2050.

‘great potential’

Green hydrogen can replace coal in heavy industries like steel mills. It can also be used to make fertilizer and is being considered as a potential fuel for buses, trains and aircraft in the future.

However, a major drawback for green hydrogen has been the high cost of its production. “Grey” hydrogen is much cheaper to make, but its production requires the use of fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases.

But technological advances and rising fossil fuel prices have made green hydrogen more competitive.

Javier Brea, president of the Spanish Hydrogen Association (AEH2), said Spain has “great potential” as it has a well-developed renewables sector with significant solar and wind resources.

Cossant said Spain has another advantage in its vast natural gas network and LNG terminals, which can be converted into exports of hydrogen.

The government last year launched a 1.5 billion euro ($1.8 billion) plan to support green hydrogen projects over the next three years, tapping a European Union COVID Recovery Fund to do so.

By 2030, around nine billion euros will be spent, including private investment.

Future Energy Hub?

Spanish energy companies such as Iberdrola, Repsol and Enagas have all undertaken green hydrogen projects.

Enagas worked with global steel giant ArcelorMittal and fertilizer manufacturer Fertiberia for a major project called Hydel Espana in the northern Asturias region.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the site will have about 15 solar parks that could produce 330,000 tons of hydrogen per year by 2030, making it the largest project of this type in the world.

“It shows that the sector has matured,” said AeH2’s Bray. “2030 may appear far away, but in reality it is tomorrow.”

Spain “holds all cards to become an energy hub,” he said.

But the country still has some hurdles to overcome before it can become a leader in the growing sector.

“To win, Spain would have to accelerate the deployment of solar and wind farms, as electrolysis consumes a lot of electricity,” Cossant said, adding that the projects were mired in “administrative constraints”.

Spain also lacks energy connectivity with the rest of Europe, but the government has revived a gas pipeline project linking Catalonia and France, which Madrid wants to use to ship hydrogen.

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© 2022 AFP

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