50% Hydrogen for Europe: a manifesto

May 7, 2019 by Frank Wouters and Ad van Wijk Leave a Comment

Electricity has well known limitations, mainly for bulk and long-range transportindustrial processes requiring high temperature heat, and the chemicals industry. To entirely replace fossil fuels we need hydrogen, say Frank Wouters and Prof. Dr. Ad van Wijk. It has an energy density comparable to hydrocarbons. There’s more: Europe’s electric grid can’t cope with 100% electrification, yet hydrogen would use the existing gas pipe networks. The authors lay out a plan to deliver 50% of Europe’s energy from hydrogen by 2050. Done rapidly at scale, hydrogen would soon be as cheap as gas. It will also make Europe the hydrogen market leader: what technologies Europe (or anywhere!) masters first, it can sell to the rest of the world hungry for clean energy solutions.

Electrification is one of the megatrends in the ongoing energy transition. Since 2011, the annual addition of renewable electricity capacity has outpaced the addition of coal, gas, oil and nuclear power plants combined, and this trend is continuing. Due to the recent exponential growth curve and associated cost reduction, solar and wind power on good locations are now often the lowest cost option, with production cost of bulk solar electricity in the sunbelt soon approaching the 1 $ct/kWh mark. However, electricity has limitations in industrial processes requiring high temperature heat, the chemicals industry or in bulk and long-range transport.

Green hydrogen made from renewable electricity and water will play a crucial role in our decarbonised future economy, as shown in many recent scenarios. In a system soon dominated by variable renewables such as solar and wind, hydrogen links electricity with industrial heat, materials such as steel and fertiliser, space heating, and transport fuels. Furthermore, hydrogen can be seasonally stored and can be transported cost-effectively over long distances, to a large extent using existing natural gas infrastructure. Green hydrogen in combination with green electricity has the potential to entirely replace hydrocarbons.

Energy demand in Europe

Europe is a net energy importer, with 54% of the 2016 energy needs met by imports,consisting of petroleum products, natural gas and solid fuels. Although Europe is working ambitiously to become less dependent on energy imports, it is unlikely that Europe can become entirely energy self-sufficient. Most scenarios, including BP’s Energy Outlook 2019[1] indicate that Europe shall remain a net importer of energy until mid-century and beyond.

Several recent scenarios exist for Europe’s energy system in 2050, including Shell’s Sky Scenario[2], The Hydrogen Roadmap for Europe[3]DNV-GL’s Energy Transition Outlook 2018[4] and the “Global Energy System based on 100% Renewable Energy – Power Sector” by the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the Energy Watch Group (EWG) [5]. But also, several renewable energy industry associations have assessed the role of renewable energy in the European energy mix by 2050, among which are EWEA[6] and GWEC[7]. Analysing and comparing these scenarios, an estimated 2,000 GW of solar and 650 GW of wind energy capacity is required to decarbonise Europe’s electricity sector by 2050, generating roughly 3,000 TWh of solar energy and 2,000 TWh of wind energy per year. Europe’s final energy demand in 2050 is estimated to be around 10,000 TWh and 50% would then be covered by electricity from solar and wind. In most scenarios, additional electricity is generated by nuclear and hydropower.

Final energy mix in Europe (2015). SOURCE: Eurostat

Hydrogen in Europe

Green hydrogen can be produced in electrolysers using renewable electricity, can be transported using the natural gas grid and can be stored in salt caverns and depleted gas fields[8] to cater for seasonal mismatches in supply and demand of energy. It should be noted that blue hydrogen, hydrogen produced from fossil fuels with CCS, can play an important role in an intermediate period, helping kickstart hydrogen as an energy carrier alongside the introduction of green hydrogen.

Using existing gas infrastructure

In Europe the lowest cost renewable resources are hydropower in Norway and the Alps, offshore wind in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, onshore wind in selected European areas, whereby the best solar resource is in Southern Europe. The current electricity grid was not built for this, is not fit for the energy transition and needs to be drastically modernised. In 2018, an estimated € 1 billion worth of offshore wind energy was curtailed in Germany due to insufficient transmission grid capacity.

In addition, the development of new renewable energy capacity is slowed down due to the lack of grid capacity. Unfortunately, overhead power lines are difficult to realise due to environmental concerns, popular opposition and typically take more than a decade for planning, permitting and construction. However, a gas grid is much more cost-effective than an electricity grid: for the same investment a gas pipe can transport 10-20 times more energy than an electricity cable. Also, Europe has a well-developed gas grid that can be converted to accommodate hydrogen at minimal cost. Recent studies carried out by DNV-GL[9] and KIWA[10] in the Netherlands concluded that the existing gas transmission and distribution infrastructure is suitable for hydrogen with minimal or no modifications.

So instead of transporting bulk electricity throughout Europe, a more cost-efficient way would be to transport green hydrogen and have a dual electricity and hydrogen distribution system. Picture 2 shows the existing European natural gas grid (blue) and a hydrogen backbone (orange) as suggested by Hydrogen Europe and Delft University.

Picture 2: Natural gas infrastructure in Europe (blue and red lines) and first outline for a hydrogen backbone infrastructure (orange lines) [Delft University of Technology, Hydrogen Europe, 40GW Electrolyser Initiative]

A different approach: top down, not bottom up

By 2050 when Europe’s electricity system is largely based on variable renewables, hydrogen is indispensable. Several scenarios have tried to estimate the increasing demand for hydrogen in Europe over time and all of them use a bottom-up approach. Although there is merit in this approach by applying industry’s collective knowledge and a deep-dive in these sectors, the fundamental flaw lies in the fact that at present there is no market for green hydrogen, and it is therefore very difficult to estimate e.g. adoption rates for fuel cell vehicles or the willingness among consumers to choose between green gas or all-electric solutions for their domestic energy needs.

A more ambitious approach based on infrastructure development is proposed, similar to the introduction of electricity or natural gas. The fundamental philosophy is to make green hydrogen available at scale and cost-effectively and replace fossil fuels as quickly as possible by repurposing the current natural gas infrastructure to carry green hydrogen. Since the transmission and distribution infrastructure is already to a large extent available, the focus can be on developing electrolyser capacity, which is an opportunity for European market leadership.

How much hydrogen do we need or want?

65% of Europe’s current final energy demand consists of gas, coal and petroleum products, which can all be replaced by hydrogen and electricity. We therefore propose a 50% share of green hydrogen in Europe’s final energy demand for all sectors: industry, transport, commercial and households. Of course, this is a rough estimate and will differ per sector and country. It is doable in the transport sector, achieving a balanced mix of battery electric mobility for shorter distances, combined with fuel cell vehicles for heavy duty, longer ranges and higher convenience.

Share of EU Final Energy use per sector (2017). SOURCE: Eurostat

Most industrial high heat demand, currently served by natural gas, can be provided by hydrogen, and the household sector will consist of a mix of all-electric well-insulated new houses, while a large part of the existing building stock can be heated using hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen gas boilers. Including the hydrogen required for power system balancing, this represents an overall hydrogen demand of 6,000 TWh/year, which can easily be accommodated by the European natural gas grid.

The green hydrogen will be produced by additional green electricity plants in Europe over and beyond the 2,000 GW solar and 650 GW wind capacity, in addition to blue hydrogenmade from natural gas whilst capturing and storing the CO2. However, 50% of the demand will be imported from neighboring regions in North Africa and the Middle East where green hydrogen can be produced cheaply and transported through cost-effective pipelines. Additional green hydrogen can be imported in liquid or ammonia form from additional sources further away, like LNG nowadays. Europe’s import dependency will be roughly cut in half, and since hydrogen can be produced almost anywhere, the supply risk profile will be much improved.

Cost competitive hydrogen

Renewable electricity is rapidly becoming cheaper than conventional electricity made in nuclear, gas- or coal-fired power plants. If a market would develop along the lines sketched here, hydrogen can be produced at € 1 per kg, which is compatible with natural gas prices of €9/mmbtu. Since the energy content of 1 kg of hydrogen is equivalent to 3.8 litre of gasoline, it is certainly cheaper than gasoline or diesel at that price point. But the main advantage lies in the infrastructure, the proposed transition would to a large extent use the existing natural gas grid and would avoid an expensive and troublesome complete overhaul of the electricity grid.

Action agenda

A European energy system based on 50% green electricity and 50% green hydrogen as described above would have many advantages: reduced emissionsreduced price volatilityindustrial opportunityavoidance of stranding gas grid assets and increased resilience.

The following are necessary considerations for an action agenda:

  • A strong, clear and lasting political commitment is necessary, embedded in a binding European strategy with clear goals stretching over several decades.
  • A new type of public private partnership on a pan-European level must be crafted, with the aim to create an ecosystem to nurture a European clean energy industry that has the potential to be world leaders in the field. This partnership should include the existing energy industry, as well as innovative newcomers.
  • A novel enabling regulatory environment and associated market design is required for the necessary investments, whilst keeping the system costs affordable.

This implies that Europe needs to:

  1. Develop a common internal market for hydrogen
  2. Develop an internal market for power to hydrogenhydrogen to power and storage + flexibility
  3. Expand the public electricity infrastructure and make it fit for the 21st century
  4. Convert the public natural gas infrastructure into a public hydrogen infrastructure
  5. Develop large scale hydrogen storage facilities in salt caverns and depleted gas fields
  6. Expand large scale green electricity production through national and EU auctions for renewable electricity
  7. Stimulate large scale green hydrogen production through national and EU auctions for renewable hydrogen
  8. Until 2035: stimulate large scale blue hydrogen (hydrogen made from fossil fuels whereby the CO2 is captured and permanently stored) production through national and EU auctions in parallel to green hydrogen deployment
  9. Between 2035 and 2050: switch rapidly to a system 100% based on renewable electricity and green hydrogen.
  10. Develop a modern, innovative, competitive and world leading economy on green electricity and green hydrogen as energy carriers and feedstock.


Frank Wouters is a former Deputy Director-General at IRENA. For a full CV click here.

Prof. Dr. Ad van Wijk is sustainable energy entrepreneur and part-time Professor Future Energy Systems at TU Delft, the Netherlands. For a full CV click here.

This article originally appeared at: https://energypost.eu/50-hydrogen-for-europe-a-manifesto/


  1. https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/business-sites/en/global/corporate/pdfs/energy-economics/energy-outlook/bp-energy-outlook-2019.pdf 
  2. https://www.shell.com/energy-and-innovation/the-energy-future/scenarios/shell-scenario-sky.html 
  3. https://fch.europa.eu/sites/default/files/Hydrogen%20Roadmap%20Europe_Report.pdf 
  4. https://eto.dnvgl.com/2018/ 
  5. http://energywatchgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Full-Study-100-Renewable-Energy-Worldwide-Power-Sector.pdf 
  6. http://www.ewea.org/fileadmin/files/library/publications/position-papers/EWEA_2050_50_wind_energy.pdf 
  7. http://files.gwec.net/register?file=/files/GlobalWindEnergyOutlook2016 
  8. https://forschung-energiespeicher.info/wind-zu-wasserstoff/projektliste/projekt-einzelansicht/74/Wasserstoff_unter_Tage_speichern/ (in German) 
  9. https://www.topsectorenergie.nl/sites/default/files/uploads/TKI%20Gas/publicaties/DNVGL%20rapport%20verkenning%20waterstofinfrastructuur_rev2.pdf(in Dutch) 
  10. KIWA – Toekomstbestendige gasdistributienetten – GT170227 (July 2018 – in Dutch) 

De Groene Waterstofeconomie in Noord-Nederland

De Groene Waterstofeconomie in Noord-Nederland

De afgelopen maanden is er door de Noordelijke Innovation Board NIB hard gewerkt aan een document over de groene waterstofeconomie in Noord-Nederland. Hieronder is de executive summary te lezen.

Groene waterstof maakt de energietransitie mogelijk voor de chemie, mobiliteit en elektriciteit. Dit is nodig om klimaatdoelen van Parijs te halen én de economie te vergroenen en te versterken.

Noord-Nederland is uniek gepositioneerd om de groene waterstofeconomie tot ontwikkeling te brengen, vanwege de grootschalige groene elektriciteitsproductie via offshore wind, de kennisinfrastructuur, grootschalige chemie clusters, de import van groene elektriciteit en de aanwezige gastransport infrastructuur, die goedkoop kan worden aangepast voor groene waterstof.

Er is samen met het bedrijfsleven, wetenschap en overheid een high level routekaart ontwikkeld.

Deze moet nu concreet worden uitgewerkt in een masterplan onder leiding van een sterke en standvastige groene waterstof ambassadeur.

Lees de samenvatting hier.
Also in English: The Green Hydrogen Economy in the Northern Netherlands.

Opening EnTranCe door Koning Willem Alexander

Dinsdagochtend opende Zijne Majesteit de Koning het nieuwe Energy Transition Centre (EnTranCe) in Groningen. Op EnTranCe – de proeftuin voor energietransitie van de Hanzehogeschool Groningen en Energy Academy Europe –bouwen studenten, onderzoekers, bedrijfsleven en publiek gezamenlijk aan de energievoorziening van morgen.

De Koning verrichtte in aanwezigheid van ruim 250 gasten de opening, waarna hij een rondleiding kreeg over het terrein. Studenten van mbo-, hbo- en wo-instellingen uit de regio lieten samen met docenten en ondernemers de nieuwste ontwikkelingen op energiegebied zien. Namens de TU Delft was ik vertegenwoordigd, met de waterstofauto en het Car as Power Plant concept.

Meer informatie over EnTranCe is te vinden op en-tran-ce.org.




Concurreert de waterstofauto de stekkerauto van de weg?

Origineel verschenen in het Nederlands Dagblad (door Jaap Roelants)

Gaat de auto straks ook voor licht en warmte in huis zorgen? De auto als energiecentrale voor woning of kantoor? Deze week leverde Hyundai aan speciale afnemers, waaronder Rijkswaterstaat, de eerste zeven auto’s die op waterstof rijden. De brandstofcellen van deze auto’s zijn zo sterk dat het zin heeft ze ‘s avonds aan te sluiten op de energiecentrale van de woning. Op een volle tank waterstof zit een huisgezin er avondenlang warmpjes bij.

tudelft-logoOnderzoekers van de Technische Universiteit in Delft zijn ervan overtuigd dat de nieuwe brandstofcel van waterstofauto’s ook energie kan leveren aan huizen en kantoren. In samenwerking met een aantal partners doet de TU Delft hier onderzoek naar. Nu nog toekomstmuziek, maar straks misschien een welkome aanvulling op de energie- behoefte.

Net als concurrent Toyota zet het Koreaanse Hyundai fors in op de waterstofauto. Autopublicist Niek Schenk verbaast zich er niet over. De waterstofauto heeft twee grote voordelen boven de elektrische auto. De actieradius is met 600 kilometer ruim vier keer zo hoog en het tanken doe je in drie minuten. Bij elektrische auto’s ben je daar nog steeds uren zoet mee. Maar er is ook nog een grote hindernis te nemen: voor waterstof kun je maar op één plaats tanken en die is in Rhoon bij Rotterdam. Binnenkort komt Helmond daar nog bij, maar dat is het voorlopig. Als er niet snel een goed netwerk van oplaadpunten komt, zullen waterstofauto’s niet zo snel populair worden.

Waterstof is relatief eenvoudig en goedkoop te produceren, maar een `kilo’ waterstof kost toch 10 euro. In een tank gaat 5 kilo. Die prijs zal in de toekomst niet veranderen, omdat de producenten van de brandstof niet te erg uit de pas willen lopen met de benzineprijzen. Zorg voor het milieu moet de drijfveer zijn om over te stappen op deze brandstof, niet de prijs, zo vinden alle betrokkenen.

hyundai-ix35-fcevInmiddels heeft Hyundai zelf de eerste hindernis voor het populariseren van de brandstof genomen door de prijs van zijn auto’s sterk te verlagen. Met een prijskaartje van 55.000 euro is de ix35 Fuel Cell van Hyundai weliswaar duur, maar voor een bepaalde groep innovatieve autogebruikers toch betaalbaar. De vijftig auto’s die het merk dit jaar wil verkopen, worden voorlopig vooral aangeboden bij dealers in de buurt van de twee oplaadpunten.

Net als elektrische auto’s voldoen ze aan alle milieueisen. Ze stoten geen CO2 of andere schadelijke stoffen uit. Waterstof kan duurzaam worden geproduceerd en ligt daarmee zelfs een neuslengte voor op stroom uit het stopcontact, die nog vaak in kolencentrales wordt opgewekt. Bovendien bevatten accu’s veel moeilijk afbreekbare stoffen.

Niek Schenk heeft al diverse malen in waterstofauto’s gereden, zowel in de Toyota Mirai die in Japan en de Verenigde Staten is geïntroduceerd, als in de Hyundai die nu in Nederland op de weg komt. Het zijn eigenlijk gewoon elektrische auto’s, alleen de stroom komt uit een waterstofcel en dus niet uit een stopcontact. Het tanken gaat heel gemakkelijk en is te vergelijken met een lpg-auto. Ze trekken prima op en rijden bijna geluidloos en je hoeft niet bang te zijn dat ze onderweg stil vallen.

Welke brandstof het uiteindelijk gaat winnen, durft hij niet te zeggen. Het lijkt dat deze nieuwe waterstofauto’s de beste papieren hebben. Maar er wordt ook heel veel onderzoek gedaan naar een betere opslag van energie, dus naar betere batterijen zodat de actieradius van elektrische auto’s groter wordt. Als de wetenschap dat probleem weet op te lossen, liggen de papieren natuurlijk weer heel anders. Afwachten dus.