The Renewables Foundation and Greenpeace have presented on Tuesday a document on the social, economic and energy implications of the construction of H2Med, the green hydrogen corridor promoted by Spain and which will connect the Iberian Peninsula with France and Germany. The project, according to the publication, is a "trap" that responds more to the "interests of the gas sector" than to the need to decarbonize and move towards clean economies.
The report, the first to analyze the impacts of H2Med since La Moncloa announced it in December 2022, warns of the obvious risk that the pipelines will end up transporting more gas than green hydrogen. And the fact is that, worldwide, 95% of hydrogen production is not from renewable sources but from gas.
Hydrogen production is carried out through a process called electrolysis, which consists of applying electric shocks to water to separate the atoms. The origin of the energy with which the electric discharge is generated is what determines whether it is renewable or not.
In Spain, according to the publication, the presence of green hydrogen is anecdotal, since 99% of the 500,000 tons of hydrogen produced annually are generated with natural gas. In fact, 6% of Spanish gas consumption goes to the hydrogen industry.
The technical problems of reducing the presence of gray hydrogen in favor of green hydrogen are manifold. The compatibility of current gas pipelines with a corridor that would supposedly transport only renewable hydrogen has long been under debate, as to date only a natural gas mix with 10%-20% green hydrogen has been successfully introduced.
The analysis by Fundación Renovables and Greenpeace also focuses on the high cost of building such an infrastructure. The figures announced by the Spanish Government put the investment at over 2,000 million euros. The section that will connect Celorico (Portugal) with Zamora is estimated at 350 million euros and the next stretch, which will link Barcelona with Marseilles, will reach 2,500 million euros.
However, these already high figures do not include other external costs related to the adaptation of existing infrastructures in Spain and the creation of new facilities that can support, in the most optimistic scenario, the transport of a 100% green hydrogen load. The publication presented this Tuesday calculates that all this will require an additional investment of 4,670 million euros, which would raise the project to 7,000 million euros.
Are there enough renewables to make green hydrogen?
There are also other issues that lead the two organizations behind the study to believe that H2Med will end up being, after all, just another conventional gas pipeline. It is about the existing renewable capacity in Spain to make Spanish hydrogen green by 2030, the year in which the infrastructure should be operational, according to the agreement between Spain, Portugal, France and Germany.
The production values included in the project place the generation of green hydrogen at 10 million tons at national level by the end of the decade, in addition to another 10 million tons destined for imports. To produce 125,000 tons requires, according to the Green Hydrogen Roadmap, an output of 4GW.
In other words, to meet the targets set by H2Med, the PNIEC should redouble its projections and come to install an additional 40GW of solar and wind plants. "These initiatives turn the energy transition into an extractive and unsustainable model that socially will not be accepted," warns the publication.
A project that does not estimate the real demand for hydrogen
The green hydrogen production horizon set by this European corridor seems, according to the two organizations, unattainable. It is, they say, a very high investment that could be stranded in the future. "H2Med is totally inopportune and represents a bet on the development of infrastructure without any real estimation of demand. A practice that unfortunately is common," says José Luis García, head of the Climate, Energy and Mobility area of Greenpeace, who cites the example of Castor or the underutilized regasification plants promoted in the late 1990s.
For Fernando Ferrando, president of the Renewables Foundation, H2Med is "illogical" because "it will always be better to transport renewable electricity directly than hydrogen". "We are making an ill-advised bet on becoming a hydrogen hub, on the overproduction of renewable electricity to produce hydrogen," he says.