New EC 'Green Deal' strategies ignore nuclear power

13 July 2020

The European Commission (EC) on 8 July presented two strategies as part of its Green Deal –  “An EU Strategy for Energy System Integration”, and “A hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe”.

The 21-page strategy for Energy System Integration aims to provide the framework for the green energy transition. The EC said: “The current model where energy consumption in transport, industry, gas and buildings is happening in ‘silos' - each with separate value chains, rules, infrastructure, planning and operations - cannot deliver climate neutrality by 2050 in a cost efficient way; the changing costs of innovative solutions have to be integrated in the way we operate our energy system. New links between sectors must be created and technological progress exploited.”

There are three main pillars to this strategy:

  • First, a more ‘circular' energy system, with energy efficiency at its core.
  • Second, a greater direct electrification of end-use sectors - a network of one million electric vehicle charging points will be among the visible results, along with the expansion of solar and wind power.
  • For those sectors where electrification is difficult, the strategy promotes clean fuels, including renewable hydrogen and sustainable biofuels and biogas. The Commission will propose a new classification and certification system for renewable and low-carbon fuels.

In the 23-page Hydrogen Strategy, the EC said “In an integrated energy system, hydrogen can support the decarbonisation of industry, transport, power generation and buildings across Europe.” The EU Hydrogen Strategy addresses how to transform this potential into reality, through investments, regulation, market creation and research and innovation.”  The priority “is to develop renewable hydrogen, produced using mainly wind and solar energy”. However, it said “in the short and medium term other forms of low-carbon hydrogen are needed to rapidly reduce emissions and support the development of a viable market”.

In the first phase, from 2020 up to 2024, the strategic objective is to install at least 6GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers in the EU and the production of up to 1 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen, to decarbonise existing hydrogen production, and facilitating take up of hydrogen consumption in new end-use applications such as other industrial processes and possibly in heavy-duty transport.

In a second phase, from 2025 to 2030, hydrogen needs to become an intrinsic part of an integrated energy system with a strategic objective to install at least 40GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers by 2030 and the production of up to 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen in the EU.

In a third phase, from 2030 onwards and towards 2050, renewable hydrogen technologies should reach maturity and be deployed at large scale to reach all hard-to-decarbonise sectors where other alternatives might not be feasible or have higher costs.

To help deliver on this Strategy, the Commission announced the launch of the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance with industry leaders, civil society, national and regional ministers and the European Investment Bank. The Alliance will build up an investment pipeline for scaled-up production and will support demand for clean hydrogen in the EU.

“To target support at the cleanest available technologies, the Commission will work to introduce common standards, terminology and certification, based on life-cycle carbon emissions, anchored in existing climate and energy legislation, and in line with the EU taxonomy for sustainable investments.”  

Neither of the reports made any mention of nuclear power either as part of energy system integration or as an energy source for the production of hydrogen.  

European nuclear trade association Foratom on 9 July welcomed the addition of a ‘low-carbon hydrogen’ category but said its usage should not be limited to the short and medium term. Nevertheless it remains concerned that the insufficient attention is paid to low-carbon, non-fossil fuel sources of hydrogen, such as nuclear power.

“Nuclear is a very versatile and proven technology, providing low-carbon electricity that can be used for the production of clean hydrogen and heat for industrial processes or district heating. For example, in 2018, around 350 gigawatt-hours  of electrical equivalent heat of district heating and process heat was generated in the EU and Switzerland.” said Foratom director general Yves Desbazeille.  “Given the huge challenge which Europe will face over the next 30 years, it is essential that policymakers do not focus only on variable renewables.  Transforming our energy system is going to require all low-carbon solutions currently available. And EU policy must reflect this.”

Foratom said electrification should be the main driver for a future integrated energy system. But for some industries electrification will not be enough and therefore low-carbon hydrogen can provide an ideal solution, as long as it is available when they need it – and at an affordable cost.

“In terms of smart sector integration, low-carbon hydrogen is an important solution for hard to decarbonise sectors, such as industry and transport,” Desbazeille added. “But these sectors are going to depend on a significant amount of affordable hydrogen, 24/7. Therefore, it is essential that these EU strategies recognise ALL sources of low-carbon hydrogen, including nuclear”.

In order to produce affordable hydrogen, electrolysers will need to run constantly on low-carbon electricity. With nuclear complementing variable renewables (wind and solar) in supplying power for low-carbon hydrogen production, this will ensure a quasi-baseload electrolyser which will trigger decreasing production costs.

Foratom said it believes that it is essential for the EU to adopt a technology neutral approach based on the impact of each technology on the CO2 emission reduction targets. “We therefore urge the EU to acknowledge the important role that the nuclear energy sector will play alongside renewables.”

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