Berlin The plans to set up a state hydrogen network company have met with criticism within the traffic light coalition. FDP parliamentary group leader Lukas Köhler told the Handelsblatt that the nationalized energy companies Uniper and Sefe should “under no circumstances be misused to destroy private companies’ business”.
While the criticism from the FDP was to be expected, the SPD’s reservations about corresponding plans are surprising: “The state should focus on speedy approval procedures instead of delaying it through complex state structures and planning authorities,” said Bernd Westphal, spokesman for economic policy for the SPD parliamentary group, the Handelsblatt.
It is important to strengthen private-sector initiatives and network operators’ investments in network expansion. There is no need for state corporate structures.
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Unions also reject the plan. Christoph Schmitz, member of the Verdi federal executive board, said that instead of thinking about a national hydrogen operating company, the federal government must accelerate the expansion of the hydrogen networks by law and planning.
Federal Ministry of Economics for state network
This includes giving gas network operators planning and investment security in order to upgrade the existing natural gas networks in such a way that hydrogen admixtures would initially be possible and they would form the backbone of the hydrogen infrastructure in the future.
The state should focus on speedy approval procedures instead of delaying them due to complex state structures and planning authorities. Bernd Westphal, economic policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group
At the end of last year, plans by the Federal Ministry of Economics to build a hydrogen pipeline network with state participation became known. By 2027, at least 1,800 kilometers of lines should be built.
“In order to present a coordinated and system-friendly development of a hydrogen network and its affordability, a hydrogen network company should be founded with state participation,” says a draft by the ministry for the update of the National Hydrogen Strategy (NWS).
The energy companies Uniper and Sefe could take on important tasks. The two companies that the federal government took over at the end of last year to protect them from insolvency are being discussed as “national hydrogen players”.
Concept of nationalized energy companies
The gas company Sefe, which used to trade as Gazprom Germania, has already developed a concept that outlines the structure of a national hydrogen network company. The concept states that the state needs “a quick and efficient solution to push ahead with the hydrogen network expansion required to implement the climate goals”. The market for long-distance gas pipelines is fragmented, which leads to challenges in the coordination between operators and the federal government.
A hydrogen pipeline network of this length is to be built in Germany by 2027.
That is why the federal government should participate in a hydrogen network company, recommends Sefe. According to Sefe, the core of such a company should be the gas network operator Gascade, in which Sefe has a significant stake.
With the takeover of Sefe, the federal government has also become a co-owner of Gascade. The federal government should use this opportunity and set up a “National Hydrogen Operating Company” and a “National Hydrogen Asset Company” under the umbrella of Gascade.
This makes it easier for the federal government to coordinate the development of a hydrogen network because there is only one contact person, according to the Sefe concept. The private operators of the long-distance gas pipelines should not be left out, according to the concept they should be able to participate in the asset company.
Neuralgic point of the traffic light coalition
FDP man Köhler fears that with a hydrogen network that is under political influence, certain uses of hydrogen could be ruled out from the outset. “However, the market should alone decide where hydrogen is used most sensibly. Accordingly, we should also leave the construction of the infrastructure to the market players, who bear private investment risks and therefore have a high self-interest in not planning past needs,” said the FDP parliamentary group leader.
In order to present a coordinated and system-friendly development of a hydrogen network and its financing, a hydrogen network company with state participation is to be founded. Draft by the ministry to update the National Hydrogen Strategy (NWS)
With this, Köhler is touching on a critical point within the traffic light coalition: They are arguing about whether hydrogen should be reserved for certain areas of application or whether it should be available for all applications without any technology restrictions.
The Federal Ministry of Economics, led by Robert Habeck (Greens), wants to focus on using hydrogen where there are no alternatives. The company initially focused on the steel industry.
In second place are the back-up power plants, which will always be used in the future when renewable energies are not supplying enough electricity. In a few years, sufficient hydrogen instead of natural gas should be available for these power plants.
All other possible uses have no priority from the point of view of the economic department. The Liberal-led Ministries of Transport and Research, on the other hand, have a broader approach. They want to leave it up to market forces to determine where the hydrogen will be used. They therefore do not want to rule out use in the transport and heating sectors.
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