Hydrogène, une stratégie encore en évolution

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A few more months will still be devoted to changing the French strategy in terms of hydrogen. The main lines were announced at the beginning of December, leaving the question of uses in mobility and the use of imports still in question.

Developed in 2020, the French strategy for production and consumption ofhydrogen was to be revised last summer. It will ultimately only be scheduled in the first half of 2024, with certain subjects meriting arbitration. The industry, gathered at the annual conference of its association France Hydrogène, is both relieved and worried: the arbitrations in question could slow down certain ongoing developments; but the coming months will give everyone the opportunity to defend their positions.

Announced by Ministers Agnès Pannier-Runacher and Roland Lescure during the inauguration of the gigafactory de Symbio on December 5, the main lines of this new strategy first confirm the overall direction taken three years ago: France wants to become a producer of low-carbon hydrogen by targeting 6.5 GW of electrolysis in 2030 and – c This is a new objective – 10 GW in 2035. The sector estimates that we could push up to 12 or 14 GW, but is already satisfied with maintaining this momentum.

New priority for industry?

Another point of satisfaction: continued state support for projects, particularly for the production of hydrogen by electrolysis. This will in fact benefit from an envelope of 4 billion euros from January 2024, distributed by Ademe with the support of the Energy Regulatory Commission. The objective is to help the emergence of the first gigawatt of electrolysis in France by financing the cost gap between low-carbon hydrogen and carbon hydrogen manufactured by steam reforming of fossil methane. This support will favor projects providing for large volumes of hydrogen, therefore most likely industrial projects, to reduce costs.

The Minister for Ecological Transition rightly indicated that the strategy would now favor industry and heavy mobility. Hence the initial concern of the sector and the territories which have supported light hydrogen mobility for three years. Certainly the Tiruert (incentive tax relating to the use of renewable energies in transport) will represent significant support for this light mobility, but France Hydrogen fears that this type of project will run out of steam, while there is a pool of players motivated by so-called intensive mobility, that is to say with high mileage (like taxis) or needing rapid charging.

If the country wants to have significant volumes of electrolysis and decarbonize its industry, certain sectors with high potential should be prioritized, such as the production of ammonia, olefins and primary steel, as advocated by the negaWatt Association during the publication of a study on this subject in mid-October. It also proposes that the electricity consumption modulation capacities of electrolysers be valued as a service provided to the network, and the ministers have rightly announced that this would be put on the table for discussions. The subject is not benign, since this modulation would make it possible to store hydrogen during periods of surplus to use it later, which would generate significant savings for the energy system, estimated at 1.5 billion euros. per year by RTE and GRTgaz.

Question about the use of hydrogen imports

The new decarbonized hydrogen ecosystem is only just being established, helped by an emerging European regulatory framework, but there is still a lot of effort to be made to deploy it on the expected scale and in a sustainable manner. Because it is not enough to build gigafactories, it is also necessary that products operating or manufactured from hydrogen are purchased in France and Europe. The stimulation of this demand is still embryonic, and not facilitated by high prices. This is the case in mobility, with vehicles still very expensive. No better on the electrolyzer side, where it is still China which is in the lead with electrolyzers 3 to 5 times cheaper.

In the race for competitiveness, countries like Germany have already decided that they will import carbon-free hydrogen produced at low cost outside Europe. France had previously refused to do so, but ministerial declarations have just opened up the possibility of studying this option. It must be said that hydrogen networks are already planned in France with the corridor H2Med which will connect the Iberian Peninsula to Marseille, and others planned to run along the Rhône valley to Dijon then Over-the-Rhine. Will the country see this hydrogen transit without using part of it? Will the economic interest in importing less expensive decarbonized hydrogen give priority to the issue of sovereign national production ? The debates in the months to come will have to seriously examine these questions to determine which path France wants to take.


Image credit of one: freepik

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