Green hydrogen needs a lot of renewable energy but it also needs to get from A to B. But with little existing production, how do you know when and where to build pipelines and other hydrogen infrastructure? Energinet, the Danish TSO with plans to establish a hydrogen link to neighbouring Germany, explain how they approach this challenge.
Here is a chicken and egg problem: Green energy needs infrastructure to reach consumers. Until that infrastructure is ready, investors have little incentive to build more capacity.
But for entirely new forms of renewable energy - such as green hydrogen from Power-to-X - it's not always clear when and where to build the infrastructure, precisely because there are still no large-scale producers to connect it to.
So how do you make sure the infrastructure is built in time to keep up with the pace of the green transition, without making costly mistakes such as building pipelines to nowhere?
That is the question we asked Stine Grenaa Jensen, Vice president for System development at Energinet. As the Danish Transmission System Operator, Energinet is responsible for laying the groundwork for the green transition in the form of energy cables and pipelines, including those that carry hydrogen instead of natural gas.
How do you approach the challenge of when and where to build the energy infrastructure for hydrogen?
Stine Grenaa Jensen: 'It is a chicken and egg problem we have to solve, and the main reason is that we are talking about huge investments. Not only in infrastructure, wind turbines and solar farms, but also if you want to refine the hydrogen for other products like ammonia or methanol. So the amount of investments going into these large-scale projects automatically gives a chicken and egg problem we have to solve. It's not impossible, but it requires all the different parts of the value chain come together and find out how to not only time the investment but also talk about what the demand for infrastructure is in the specific cases.
'Because it is rather different things whether you go for onshore wind turbines, solar farms and then local methanol production, or if you are looking into large scale offshore wind turbines and then export of hydrogen. It requires very different combinations of not only hydrogen infrastructure, but also the electricity infrastructure.'
Hydrogen can be used for many different things - from aviation fuel to energy-intensive industries. To what extent will the need for infrastructure change based on what the hydrogen is used for?
'In a Danish context, the main resource and input for the Power-to-X value chain comes from a lot of renewable energy. So then the question becomes how to use this renewable energy, not just for consumption, but also in order to support the green transition. And this is more about that we go firstly for direct electrification - in the sectors where we can do that - and then the second is energy savings, which is more and more discussed at the moment with the energy crisis. And then afterwards it is a matter of trying to convert electricity to other types of molecules that can enable a green transition. For Energinet it is not 'either-or', it is a variety of different possibilities to decarbonise different sectors, and we have to support all the different value chains.'
'So from our perspective, it is not a matter of should it be used for aviation fuel, ammonia, or directly as hydrogen. All of those will come into play, because the renewable energy we have available in a Danish context is actually quite huge. So in order to utilise the potential, we have to look into all the different ways [hydrogen will be used, ed.].
'If we go directly to what we are core responsible for, which is building the infrastructure, it is important for us to look into the possibility of saving investments in electricity grids by building hydrogen grids and in that way find out how they can support each other, rather than we just build for two separate value chains.'
Are there any unanswered questions we still need to answer before we will see a large-scale roll-out of hydrogen?
'Since we started working on this several years ago, the saying was more that we have to do a lot of research. But producing and using hydrogen is not a new technology: it is more than 100 years old, we already have existing hydrogen pipelines, but often within industry clusters that are transporting hydrogen for industry processes, and there is actually a lot of experience we can use in the energy sector on how to build hydrogen infrastructure. We of course have to learn how to build up the markets, how to make the balancing, how to handle it at large scale and upscaling it. But I don't think it is a basic question of how we deal with hydrogen, but more on how to do the upscaling.'
What does the current geopolitical and market volatility mean for Power-to-X?
'I heard someone say 'never waste a good crisis'. If we have to have it, then it's a good idea not to waste it. But this crisis actually pushes forward the green transition. From Energinet's perspective, it is very important that we do all we can to enable that and keep up the pace. And the best way to do that, in our view, is to ensure the infrastructure that is needed, and ensure it is inter-linked.'
In 2021, Energinet published a study of what it would take to repurpose a pipeline from Denmark to Germany from natural gas to hydrogen. The study finds that it can be done quickly, flexibly and efficiently - but stress that market signals are needed to understand what the future hydrogen demand and production is likely to be.
COUNTRY MARKET DIRECTOR
T: +45 5161 6380