Sat, 01 Apr 2023

BARCELONA, Spain, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- Germany's decision to join Spain, France and Portugal in the H2Med project means that the plan, which foresees the construction of an underwater pipeline to carry green hydrogen between Barcelona in Spain and Marseille in France, is more likely to become a reality, a Spanish energy expert said.

However, he did not conceal his doubts either.

"I think the fact that Germany is now involved makes it more likely that the project will go ahead," Albert Banal-Estanol, an associate professor at Barcelona's Pompeu Fabra University, told Xinhua in an interview. Nevertheless, he added that the plan entailed "risks."

"Once it's operative, we have to be able to produce enough hydrogen for our (Spain's) own consumption but also enough to export to France and other European countries. But right now we don't know if hydrogen will be competitive or whether it will be used on a large scale, and so my first reaction is that this is a risky project," he said.

In a joint Franco-German declaration issued on Jan. 22, the 60th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty of friendship between the two countries, Germany announced its intention to join the H2Med project.

Described as the first green hydrogen corridor in the European Union (EU), the H2Med project was proposed in October 2022 to be jointly developed by Spain, Portugal and France. Its predecessor, the MidCat gas pipeline project through the Pyrennees, was abandoned in 2019 over profitability issues.

The Spanish, Portuguese and French authorities estimate that the new pipeline will cost 2.5 billion euros (2.7 billion U.S. dollars) to build and that by 2030 it will transport two million tonnes of green hydrogen per year, or 10 percent of the EU's hydrogen needs.

However, the professor pointed out that very few details about the H2Med pipeline have been made public and that many doubts and unanswered questions remain about the green hydrogen project, not least who will end up paying for it.

"A key question is whether the EU will fund 50 percent, and who will fund the remaining 50 percent, whether it will be companies, states or the consumers. All the major natural gas projects carried out in Spain in the past that have greatly increased the magnitude of the infrastructure were paid for by the taxpayers," he told Xinhua.

Yet, the professor added that a consequence of Germany choosing to join the project is that the funding issue will most likely become much clearer.

"What could change above all is the financing because the support of Germany will most likely help the pipeline be classified as a project of interest for the European Union, which means it would get part of the funding from Europe," he said.

As for why Germany would want to join Spain, France and Portugal in the project, the professor suggested that it might have less to do with the potential of green hydrogen as an alternative energy source and more to do with the country's need for new sources of natural gas.

"There's the possibility that the pipeline could be used to transport natural gas to Germany and thus replace part of the dependency it has on Russian gas, and that's one possible reason I see for Germany's interest in the project," he said.

The professor also pointed out that even if using the pipeline to transport natural gas to Germany instead of green hydrogen might help solve the country's need for alternative energy sources, it would also bring other problems, not least going against Germany's future commitments.

"Germany clearly has to reduce its dependence on the natural gas it imports from Russia, but the problem is that if this pipeline that's designed to carry hydrogen also carries natural gas to Germany, that would only delay the energy transition," he argued.

According to Banal-Estanol, the pipeline project is part of a larger and long-term geopolitical scenario within Europe and its future will depend on how the relationship between France and Germany evolves.

"Germany wanted the initial MidCat project to go ahead but France refused to support it. But now it supports this second project, and so does Germany. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out between France and Germany, the two most powerful countries in the European Union," Banal-Estanol said.

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