EU Parliament backs pro-nuclear definition of ‘low-carbon’ hydrogen
Nuclear-reliant France rejoiced on Thursday (9 February) as lawmakers in the European Parliament’s energy committee defined low-carbon hydrogen, agreeing to put it on the same level playing field as renewable hydrogen in the race for decarbonisation.
“Victory, that’s it, low-carbon hydrogen has a definition!” tweeted Christophe Grudler, a French MEP and speaker on the Renewable Energy Directive for the centrist Renew group in Parliament.
Grudler was reacting after he and his colleagues in the Parliament’s committee on industry, research and energy (ITRE) adopted a definition of low-carbon hydrogen on Thursday (9 February).
The definition – which includes hydrogen derived from nuclear power – came as part of discussions on the EU’s gas and hydrogen package of legislation presented by the Commission in December 2021.
On the same level playing field
The committee vote came as a relief to those advocating for low-carbon hydrogen to be placed on an equal footing with green hydrogen produced from renewable energy.
Under the Parliament’s definition, low-carbon hydrogen “is derived from non-renewable sources” and “meets a greenhouse gas emission reduction threshold of 70%” at least.
To be considered low-carbon, hydrogen must not exceed a threshold of 3.38 kilos of CO2-equivalent per kilo of hydrogen (kgCO2e/kgH2), considering that “grey hydrogen” produced from fossil gas has a carbon intensity of 11kgCO2e/kgH2.
For now, no calculation method has been defined as this is due to be adopted within six months after the final adoption of the Gas and Hydrogen Directive.
Still, this definition makes low-carbon hydrogen as efficient as renewable hydrogen in decarbonising the European economy, whose threshold is also set at around 3.38 kgCO2e/kgH2.
With this new definition, France would be able to produce nuclear-derived hydrogen at a carbon intensity of only 2.77 kgCO2e/kgH2, according to the French agency for ecological transition (ADEME).
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Other EU states hesitant
The definition gives France another lever to push for the integration of low-carbon hydrogen in the EU’s decarbonisation goals.
However, it does not resolve the ongoing standoff about the inclusion of nuclear-derived hydrogen in the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, which is also currently up for revision.
Some EU countries like Germany are reluctant to have low-carbon hydrogen featured in the EU’s renewable directive and question France’s insistence to have it mentioned there.
In response, France said it would be counterproductive to exclude nuclear from the EU’s decarbonisation goals.
“Renewables are not the only answer to decarbonisation,” said French energy minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher. “Nuclear is one, too, because it provides baseload electricity, with low CO2 emissions, and makes it possible to manage the intermittency of renewables,” she told journalists in a briefing last week.
“However, the discussions in Brussels risk imposing renewable energy targets that do not take this reality into account,” she added. “And I want to warn very clearly against the risk [that] states like France which have a very low-emission electricity mix, would be prevented from decarbonising,” she continued, saying the EU’s goal is to decarbonise its economy, not to increase renewables.
France, together with eight other EU countries, reiterated these points in a letter sent to the European Commission last week.
Negotiations on the renewable energy directive came to a standstill earlier this week as the German lawmaker in charge of steering the file through Parliament, Markus Pieper, cancelled a planned round of talks.
In an email to colleagues, Pieper bemoaned the European Commission’s failure to table specific rules defining how much “additional” renewable electricity is needed for hydrogen to qualify as “green” under the revised directive.
By cancelling the talks, the German lawmaker raised pressure on the Commission to finally presents its additionality ruleset, which was initially expected to be tabled in December 2021.
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