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Hydrogen to challenge Russian gas at its biggest market within 15-30 years, say experts

According to the European Commission’s strategy presented in early July, hydrogen fuel is to become an integral part of the EU’s energy system by 2030

MOSCOW, July 30. /TASS/. The development of hydrogen technologies has been increasingly put on the energy agenda recently. Europe’s ‘green’ initiatives are forcing natural gas suppliers to address improving environmental compatibility, and hydrogen may help them do that, experts polled by TASS believe.

Hydrogen cannot compete with traditional energy sources in terms of the cost now, whereas it will inevitably challenge them within 15-30 years, experts suggest. That is why Russia, as a potentially large player on that market, has to think about the development of required technologies to get into the changing energy landscape of its largest gas buyer.

First attempts to use hydrogen as an energy source were made long ago. However, amid the intent of the European Union to slash carbon footprint to zero by 2050, hydrogen energy is experiencing another resurgence.

According to the European Commission’s strategy presented in early July, hydrogen fuel is to become an integral part of the EU’s energy system by 2030. Construction of electrolysis plants that will allow production of up to 1 mln tonnes of renewable hydrogen, is expected within the next four years in the European Union. Meanwhile, the EU admits the necessity of using natural gas at least by 2030.

Eleven big European companies that have gas transportation and storage infrastructure, have presented their plan for the hydrogen future. It suggests that the length of hydrogen pipelines will reach 23,000 kilometers by 2040, while 75% of them will consist of reequipped gas pipes. Particularly, it is also planned to reequip to hydrogen the pipeline, which serves as an extension of the Baltic routes of gas supplies from Russia - Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 that is being built. The latter are considered as "potential additional routes" of supplies.

According to analysts, without serious upgrade, the infrastructure of gas pipelines allows mixing up to 10-20% of hydrogen with natural gas (methane) now. "Considering the EU’s climate agenda, particularly the recently adopted hydrogen strategy, which envisions import of hydrogen from neighboring countries, the operator companies, same as Gazprom, are seriously addressing the issue of pumping the gas and hydrogen mixture," Vygon Consulting Research Director Maria Belova said, adding that "Nord Stream 2, unlike the current gas pipeline system of Ukraine, will have technical possibilities for that."

Moreover, hydrogen supplies will make it possible to raise the issue of easing the terms of the existing limitation to reserve 50% of the capacity of Nord Stream 2, she noted.

Having huge natural gas reserves, Russia has all chances to become a large player on the hydrogen market as well.

Earlier the Russian Energy Ministry submitted to the government the draft plan of action on hydrogen energy development in 2020-2024. The plan envisions improvement of the regulatory base and technical regulation of production, transportation, storage and use of hydrogen, as well as support of implementation of pilot projects in the field of its output. Gazprom and Rosatom may become first hydrogen producers in 2024.

Russia’s energy strategy envisions export of 200,000 tonnes of hydrogen by 2024, and 2 mln tonnes by 2035.

However, despite the potential to become a large producer of hydrogen from natural gas, Russia will still face the pressure of ‘green’ regulation, Alexei Grivach from Russia’s National Energy Security Fund warns.

"Russia lacks a distinct strategy for development of renewable energy resources both at the state level and at the level of separate companies. Europe, as well as European generating and oil and gas companies, are doing far more in this respect. Theoretically Europe can manage to strongly increase ‘green’ energy production and reduce gas consumption, particularly cut the demand for Russian gas imports, in the long-term. In this sense renewable energy resources and hydrogen indeed can compete with the Russian gas, though that is an issue of not the next ten years, but more likely 20-30 years," Fitch group director Dmitry Marinchenko said.

"The threat to Russia’s hydrocarbon export is absolutely real, hydrogen is an obvious response to that threat. However, the intentions to develop that field in Russia are restrained by the lack of incentives so far," Senior analyst at the Center for Energy at the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo Yury Melnikov noted.