In addition to green electricity, green molecules in particular i.e. renewable hydrogen and its derivatives, will play a key role in the next phase of the energy transition. The demand is enormous, as they can be used wherever fossil hydrocarbons such as oil, natural gas and coal are used today. It's unclear, however, where the required quantities will come from. Lots of countries are already positioning themselves as potential suppliers and are keen to open up new markets. In Germany, the extent to which imports will be necessary – and the contribution that domestic production can make – are still being discussed. The two are not mutually exclusive, because if Germany starts taking its climate targets seriously, we will need both: domestic production, but also the importation of renewable hydrogen.
In order to establish new import relationships, bridges must be built and strong partnerships established. When it comes to choosing partners, our European neighbours immediately spring to mind – renewable hydrogen could become a European joint venture. But more traditional energy suppliers like Morocco, Russia and Saudi Arabia are also positioning themselves to partially convert their fossil fuel business models. These developments are welcome, and important, but will most likely be insufficient for the projected demand. This is where an Australia-Germany hydrogen partnership can enter the field as an additional player. Both countries are natural trading partners and have maintained a trusting relationship for many years.
However, Australia still isn’t thought of as a pioneer of the energy transition. The country uses a lot of coal for its own electricity generation and exports large amounts of liquefied natural gas and lignite – including to Germany. However, Australia now has more solar systems per capita than anywhere in the world – and this trend is rising. With its immense potential for renewable energies, Australia can play a key role in a climate-neutral future and will probably soon produce more clean energy than it will need itself. China, Korea and, in particular, Japan have already recognised this and are investing heavily in Australia. Initial contracts have been signed and pilot and demonstration plants are in operation. Australia's advantage over other suppliers is that the country is financially strong, politically stable, ambitious, and a proven energy exporter. What's lacking is expertise in mechanical and plant engineering for hydrogen technologies. This is exactly where German industry could come in and create a genuine win-win situation.
Since last December, Germany has finally entered this competitive market with its HySupply project. HySupply is intended to provide the blueprint for a future German-Australian hydrogen bridge. To this end, it is investigating – among other things – how Australia's sunlight can be transported to Germany as efficiently as possible. In addition to plans, studies and presentations, however, implementation also requires a close dialogue between industry, science and politics on equal terms. In the case of Australia, we have a unique partner that is poised to become the world's first green energy giant.
About the author
Christoph Stemmler is Scientific Adviser at acatech – the German Academy of Science and Engineering – and coordinates the HySupply project for Germany with two colleagues from acatech and BDI. He studied Environmental Policy and Planning at the Technical University of Berlin and the Free University of Berlin. At acatech, the hydrogen field is a particular focus of his research.