23rd Sep 2023

Lobbyists push to greenwash EU rules for renewable hydrogen

The Hydrogen Europe industry association is lobbying top EU officials to weaken a key climate-focused law known as the Renewable Energy Directive, a new report of NGO Global Witness revealed on Friday (11 June).

The Renewable Energy Directive provides a set of requirements for companies to ensure production of hydrogen is sustainable. It also includes renewable hydrogen, explicitly as a means of meeting the sectoral target for renewables in the transport sector.

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The law is under revision right now, and these conditions are to be expanded to cover other sectors.

The European Commission is developing sustainability standards which will define these requirements and how companies should implement them.

"Failing to set strong sustainability standards risks creating an industry that increases carbon emissions instead of reducing them, with billions invested in a supposedly green technology that could slow progress towards the EU's climate targets," according to the report.

Given that hydrogen can be made from fossil gas, energy giants see it as a market opportunity to extend their current activities and, accordingly, are trying to influence the policies that affect the hydrogen sector.

Global Witness revealed that Hydrogen Europe's efforts included lobbying commission president Ursula von der Leyen and vice president Frans Timmermans.

The Brussels-based lobby group, whose members include energy giants like Shell, Total and Equinor, is proposing "loopholes" that would allow companies to use a large amount of fossil-generated electricity to produce "green" hydrogen, Global Witness said.

As renewable electricity depends on how sunny or windy it is, there is a risk that the hydrogen company would use fossil-fuel electricity from the grid when the renewable energy installation is not generating electricity.

When the demand for renewable electricity exceeds supply, this risk can be minimised by requiring hydrogen companies to produce only within a certain timeframe.

However, existing EU rules do not specify how long this should be. The commission is working on a methodology to determine this period.

One hour vs one month

Green campaigners advocate for a short time of one hour - while hydrogen lobby groups called for a time limit of one week to one month.

"If the industry gets its way, hydrogen could turn being a renewable fuel into one that is dangerous for the climate," the report warns.

In the EU, it is estimated that hydrogen produced from fossil electricity can have up to four times the carbon footprint of hydrogen made from fossil gas, and up to 130 times the footprint of that from renewable electricity.

Currently, more than 90 percent of hydrogen is produced with fossil fuels, since hydrogen generated by renewable electricity (also known as 'green hydrogen') is still relatively expensive.

"Hydrogen debates are reaching fever pitch in Brussels, thanks to an army of gas industry lobbyists that's using its sway to influence EU regulations," according to Dominic Eagleton from Global Witness.

"Renewable hydrogen is supposed to be fossil-free, but there's a real danger that industry proposals would turn it from being a climate-friendly fuel into a polluting one," he added.

Four-out-of-five meetings

Over the past 18 months, 80 percent of the meetings on hydrogen held by senior EU Commission officials have been with private companies or industry associations - namely Shell, Eurogas, Equinor, Hydrogen Europe, Engie and the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers.

A separate report from NGO Corporate Europe Observatory from 2020 found that the hydrogen lobby groups declared a combined annual expenditure of €58.6m trying to influence Brussels policy-making.

The commission will unveil the updated Renewable Energy Directive on 14 July, as part of the so-called 'Fit for 55' package - seen as a credibility test of EU's commitment to the Green Deal.


Hydrogen - the next battlefield

Part Two of Investigate Europe's long-form examination of the EU gas industry looks at hydrogen - touted as the clean, green, future. But with NGOs sidelined, and industry leading the push, how sustainable is it really?


Why hydrogen is no magic solution for EU Green Deal

Why is the EU Commission promoting a lose-lose (pay more, get less) strategy rather than the straightforward use of green electricity, where it will deliver bigger CO2-reductions and for less money?

Hydrogen strategy criticised for relying on fossil fuel gas

Civil society organisations criticised that the commission is relying on early-stage technologies that require the continued use of fossil fuels, undermining the EU's 2050 climate-neutrality target set in the Green Deal.


Hydrogen - the 'no-lose bet' for fossil-fuel industry?

The EU plans to label natural gas as 'green' in sustainable investment rules. From 2026 it will have to be blended with low-carbon gases like green hydrogen - but many scientists warn this is inefficient, costly and damaging to health.

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