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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Opportunities and risks of hydrogen partnerships and technologies in developing countries

Thematic area: Energy, resources, environment
Analytical approach: TA project
Topic initiative: Committee on Economic Cooperation and Development and Committee on Economic Affairs and Energy
Status: ongoing
Current project phase: Preparation of expert reports and preparation of a call for tenders
Duration: 2021 till 2023

Background and centrals aspects of the topic

Hydrogen produced on the basis of renewable energies (RE) – so-called green hydrogen – is considered to be a key technology for achieving the objective of climate neutrality by 2050. From today's perspective, it will be impossible to cover the expected demand for hydrogen as an energy carrier or basic material for industrial processes by the quantities produced in Germany or the EU alone. This is why, for the time being, Germany will depend on imports of green hydrogen (or derived products). Suitable production sites can be found particularly in regions with favourable geographical and climatic conditions for RE production – many of them in developing countries (e. g. photovoltaics and wind energy in North Africa). Thus, the topic of hydrogen partnerships with developing countries is of high political and social relevance.

Germany and the EU have set themselves the objective of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Moving away from fossil fuels and resources is a key prerequisite for achieving this objective. Hydrogen has a key role to play here, as it can be produced from renewably generated electricity via electrolysis and can be used flexibly in many areas (e. g. as fuel and as basic material for industrial processes). With regard to its function as a storage medium, hydrogen can balance fluctuations in electricity generation from renewable energy sources. Moreover, it can serve as a link for sector coupling (electricity-heat-transport).

As from today’s perspective, the quantities required for large-scale hydrogen use in Germany cannot be produced exclusively domestically or in the EU, the option of importing sus-tainably produced hydrogen from other countries is being discussed. Thus, for example, many developing countries offer good conditions for the cost-effective generation of wind and solar energy for hydrogen production.

Hydrogen partnerships with developing countries can open up great opportunities at the local level for their economic development. The export earnings for hydrogen can generate funds to build infrastructure in the partner country and stimulate the local economy. Moreover, high-quality jobs can be created in these countries.

Depending on the local situation, however, adverse environmental, socio-economic or political effects must also be considered. For example, the export of hydrogen might delay the often urgently needed expansion and climate-neutral conversion of the domestic energy industry in the partner country. Furthermore, it might have negative effects on the local availability of resources (e. g. drinking water). In many previous analyses and strategies with regard to a hydrogen economy, only little attention has been paid to the concerns of the partner countries.

At the same time, from a German perspective, it is also important to address certain opportunities and risks that hydrogen partnerships with developing countries might entail. These include, in particular, issues relating to the reliability, security and resilience of the supply of energy or essential basic materials. Ways are to be found to avoid dependencies in supply relationships, for example on states with unstable political or social structures or with deficits regarding democracy and human rights.

Objectives and approach

The objective of the TA project is to identify and discuss the conditions for implementation as well as possible implications, opportunities and risks of a hydrogen infrastructure along the entire utilisation chain in potential partner countries. Technological approaches, criteria and implementation possibilities for the design of corresponding projects are to be investigated, which aim at simultaneously providing the greatest possible developmental and environmental benefits.

Project progress

As part of an initial call for proposals, expert opinions were commissioned in June 2021 on the two thematic modules »State of the art, systemic aspects and infrastructure requirements« and "Analysis of costs, benefits and risks". In a next step, specific conditions for the implementation of hydrogen partnerships are to be investigated within the framework of country studies. A call for tenders is currently being prepared for this purpose.