April 19. 2024. 9:36

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Renewables directive: The impossible integration of nuclear-derived hydrogen?


The EU’s renewables energy directive, agreed in principle last week, leaves the door open to nuclear-derived hydrogen, but under conditions that are so challenging that some industry observers say they are impossible to meet.

EU legislators reached a political agreement last Thursday (30 March) on the EU’s renewable energy directive, 18 months after it was tabled by the European Commission.

In addition to the overall 42.5% renewable energy target for 2030, the directive also sets sectoral targets, notably for the share of renewable hydrogen used in industry and transport.

Under that part of the deal, the EU plans to produce 42% of its hydrogen from renewable energy sources by 2030, rising to 60% by 2035.

This is an ambitious target, given that 95% of the EU’s current hydrogen consumption is derived from fossil fuels.

For this reason, Paris and hydrogen industry groups have called for a lower target to apply for countries like France, which already has a decarbonised electricity mix thanks to its fleet of 56 nuclear reactors.

Their demands have been heard, to some extent.

EU strikes deal on renewable energy law, agrees 42.5% target by 2030

Agreement on the EU’s renewable energy directive brings to a close an 18-month process to upgrade the bloc’s climate policies and achieve a 55% net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

‘Paradigm shift’

“Member states with a decarbonised energy mix, in particular through the use of nuclear energy, can benefit from adjustments in the achievement of their targets,” said Christophe Grudler, a French MEP and speaker on the renewable energy directive for the centrist Renew group in the European Parliament.

For these member states, the renewable hydrogen development target may be reduced by 20% if they meet two conditions.

  • First, they must demonstrate their ability to meet the EU’s overall 42.5% renewable energy target for 2030 – a condition which applies even though individual targets for each EU member state are not yet known (and purely indicative anyway).
  • Second, the share of hydrogen from fossil fuels must not exceed 23% of the hydrogen they will consume in 2030.

Following the agreement, the French Minister for Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, hailed what she called a “paradigm shift” in EU energy policy.

France and its allies, however, did not win the battle hands down as they faced resistance from anti-nuclear countries such as Austria, Germany, and Luxembourg, which imposed strict conditions.

“It is a step forward that has no real impact on the concrete use of this provision,” said Markus Pieper, a German conservative MEP who was the Parliament’s lead rapporteur on the renewables directive.

Nuclear vs renewables: Two camps clash in Brussels

EU energy ministers were divided into two camps at the EU Council meeting on Tuesday (28 March): the pro-nuclear alliance, which includes France and 10 other member states, and the “renewable friendly” group, composed of 10 EU states.

‘A challenge’

Others prefer to see the tough conditions as “a challenge”.

Among them is Simon Pujau from the French hydrogen industry association. To address it, he says France will have to go faster than other member states in achieving the general target of the EU’s renewable energy directive.

Paris will also be able to rely on an exemption from the the so-called “additionality” rule mandating that renewable hydrogen must come from “additional” renewable energy sources only. Under the exemption, countries with a low-carbon electricity mix can obtain a derogation from the additionality rule, a move which recognises France’s decarbonised electricity mix.

But some denounce the conditions as too strict or even impossible to meet.

Nonetheless, the EU’s new renewable energy directive could help assert nuclear’s strengths for another critical piece of legislation on future aviation fuels, known as ‘RefuelEU’.

France, along with low-carbon hydrogen advocates, intends to make this its new objective.

“We have laid a first stone on the recognition of the nuclear-renewable complementarity and it is rather well on the way for the legislation on synthetic fuels for aviation,” Pujau told EURACTIV.

Industries unite behind nuclear-made hydrogen, in addition to renewables

EXCLUSIVE: The steel and chemical industries have joined calls to incorporate nuclear-made fuels in the EU’s renewable energy targets, saying all types of clean hydrogen will be needed to reach the bloc’s decarbonisation objectives.