On the verge of overcoming the political placet, the new energy connection between Spain and France, H2Med, must face challenges as varied as profitability, logistical risk, competition and even a not-to-be-dismissed social rejection in French territory.
The Spanish Government has saved the last ball of the game from the European gas interconnections. The Midcat gas pipeline, which sought to connect Spain with the French gas network through the Pyrenees, has been buried, and after years of confrontation with France, everything is ready for the presentation of H2Med this Friday, the new submarine connection to link the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe, in which hydrogen has priority and natural gas is complementary.
“Betting that the new interconnection is based on hydrogen (H2) is key so that it can be financed by the EU,” acknowledge sources from the Ministry of Ecological Transition. The fact that it is Med (Iterrean) also helps. In this way, the project is no longer a connection between two countries, an argument used by the European Commission to not commit to financing. Thus, it is integrated into the hydrogen infrastructure network for which Europe has opted and whose connection between a south that produces hydrogen and a north that demands high-calorie energy to replace gas is key.
As it happened to the Midcat
The connection may meet with social rejection in France
But, overcoming the political obstacle is only the first of the balls of an uncertain party, due to questions about the viability of hydrogen as an energy of the future, transport security and the non-ruleable social opposition.
“Reality will surpass us and in 2030 it will be a profitable technology,” the sources consulted in the ministry trust. That confidence is what makes them embark on an unprecedented project. “All the connections are good whatever they cost because in the future they will be needed. But it is true that this has never been done. An underwater tube adapted for the passage of hydrogen in which everything remains to be experimented requires a huge investment”, sources from the energy sector explain to La Vanguardia.
The first thing to decide is how and with what materials the new infrastructure should be built. Hydrogen is the lightest element on the periodic table and its handling and transfer involves complicated logistics to avoid leaks and possible explosions. “If guaranteeing the safety of a hydrogen pipeline is already much more complicated than that of a gas pipeline, channeling it through the sea as contemplated in this project will undoubtedly increase the cost of hydrogen that reaches final consumers,” say experts from the Spanish gas sector.
How much will the project ultimately cost? How much will that power cost when it is operational in 2030? Will it be profitable? Will it be of interest to the Central European industrial customers to whom it is addressed? “That is what should be known before beginning its construction. Europe should demand a cost-benefit analysis, which involves identifying final demand. Gas and oil producers require long-term contracts with end customers to be signed before building the facilities so as not to invest in vain and avoid wasting money on infrastructures that are not profitable. Nobody here knows who is going to buy the hydrogen that Spain produces,” warns Jorge Sanz Oliva, director of Nedgia Spain and former president of the Commission of Experts on Energy Transition. According to this expert, “its profitability is difficult for hydrogen. Why transport hydrogen with how dangerous it is, if the energy necessary to manufacture it can be channeled directly? ”, He raises.
Competitive prices for green hydrogen
Spain foresees that sun, wind and technological advances will allow lowering its current cost
At the moment, that is not the route that is on paper. Spain wants to be a leading power in the export of green hydrogen. 50% of its cost is the electricity to produce it and it is hoped that the sun, the wind and technological advances will allow the current cost of 8 euros per kilo produced to be lowered, compared to the 1.5 euros that gray hydrogen costs ( that which is produced with natural gas). To guarantee this profitability, “the technology must allow it to be produced with clean energy for less than 20 euros per MWh, and with electrolyzers -technology that separates water molecules (H2O) into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O)- operating as many hours as possible.
Spain is not the only country that is betting on hydrogen as a future technology. The Netherlands already has one of the largest projects in Europe underway. “Perhaps we have cheaper photovoltaic and solar energy, but they are much closer to the large industries that will need that hydrogen and that also lowers the cost,” the experts comment.
Because, as was the case with the Midcat, the end of the project does not end in Marseille. For Spanish hydrogen to reach Germany and the rest of Central Europe, it must pass through a French network whose reality is uncertain. A pipeline is needed that runs through the French Rhône Valley to the border connections at Obergailbach (Germany), Oltingue (Switzerland) and Taisnières (Belgium). The current pipelines are compatible for gas mixtures that contain a maximum of 40% hydrogen. For a higher percentage it would be necessary to build a new pipeline.
It is at this point that the H2Med could run into the same French reluctance that the Midcat ran into. For years, the social resistance of the populations of the Rhône Valley has opposed the Eridan project, which sought to build 220 kilometers of a new gas pipeline between Saint Martin de Creu and Saint Avit. “This social problem will present itself again in the future. The question is whether the French will be willing to accept a tube that only channels a non-polluting fluid such as green hydrogen or will they consider that the impact on the environment is similar to what Eridan was going to produce”, they warn from the energy sector.