By Paul Messad
(EurActiv) — French Energy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher is trying to get EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson to include nuclear among energy sources for the production of so-called “green” hydrogen, according to a letter seen by EURACTIV France.
In May, the European Union unveiled its REPowerEU programme to rapidly reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels and speed up the green transition.
The targets listed in the programme include producing 10 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2030 and importing 10 million tonnes from third countries that respect the same environmental and technological standards.
But according to the French minister, the current rules leave little room for the production of green hydrogen from “low-carbon” electricity, mostly nuclear power.
Given “the absolute priority of the next decade for hydrogen, […] the only important issue is the carbon content of the hydrogen produced and not the production vector,” Pannier-Runacher wrote to the European Commissioner.
This puts “the achievement of our common goals at risk,” she warned.
In her letter, Pannier-Runacher also took aim at the so-called principle of ‘additionality’, which allows renewable hydrogen to be labelled “green” as long as it is produced from electricity mixes containing more than 90% of renewables.
It “does not apply well to countries with an electricity mix that is already largely decarbonised, where the supply of electricity by the grid must be treated on an equal footing with direct supplies through contracts with renewable sources,” Pannier-Runacher wrote.
“Largely decarbonised” mixes like the French mix, which only produces 80 gCO2/MWh due to its heavy reliance on nuclear power, should also be exempted, according to the French minister.
Respecting EU minimum standards
Another concern noted in the letter is the EU’s hydrogen import strategy, which according to the French government, poses a risk of technology spill-over and imports of hydrogen that do not comply with EU production standards.
“The development of carbon-free hydrogen must be an opportunity to strengthen our energy sovereignty: the use of imports must be on an equal playing field with European production,” Pannier-Runacher insists.
Another bone of contention is the fact that, under the EU’s draft renewable energy directive, public money cannot help fund electricity generation for the production of green hydrogen. “This seems counterproductive with regard to the climate emergency and could be difficult to implement, given the different forms public support can take,” Pannier-Runacher warned.
Not including low-carbon hydrogen in the renewable energy directive would be “an extremely degraded solution” for France, she added. “Failing this, if low-carbon hydrogen does not obtain the possibility of contributing to the objectives of the directive, [….], it would be appropriate to limit the discrimination of low-carbon technologies other than renewable energies,” the letter adds.
The French minister thus called on the Commission to leave it up to the member states to introduce low-carbon energies on the same level as renewable energies in the mix, as long as this contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
France riding solo
The pro-nuclear position of the French when it comes to green hydrogen is not entirely shared by the industry.
Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, CEO of Hydrogen Europe, which represents the interests of the industry in 25 EU countries, said the letter is proof that France is “going solo” on nuclear and putting itself in a “dangerous insular position”.
Speaking to EURACTIV Friday (16 september), he denounced France for being stubborn by not making itself “free for the flow of hydrogen, for example from Spain to Germany”.
Industry leaders like Chatzimarkakis are not welcoming France’s current opposition to the MidCat pipeline, which should connect France and Spain but has been kept on hold since 2019. French President Emmanuel Macron recently said that he would consider resuming construction if he were convinced of the pipeline’s usefulness.
France is “not credible for the moment”, the CEO said.