History was made in France last month when the government recognised that hydrogen (H2) will play a major role in the energy transition. Nicolas Hulot, Minister of Ecological and Solidary Transition, announced his intention to make France a “world leader in this technology” and revealed plans to allocate €100m ($116.8m) next year to support the nation’s H2 industry.
“Plan Hydrogène” will create a carbon-free industrial sector, develop renewable energy storage capacities and develop zero-emission solutions for road, rail and river transport. From 2019, €100m ($116.8m) will be dedicated to the first deployments of H2 in industry, mobility and energy. ADEME (the French Environment and Energy Management Agency) will drive the deployment of these credits and support projects and actors in the sector throughout France.
gasworld spoke to Pascal Pewinski (left), General Manager of AREVA H2Gen, a technology provider specialising in H2 production, to find out more about the plan and how AREVA H2Gen will contribute.
What was the reaction in France when this plan was announced?
It’s a historical moment for France. For the French H2 environment – which means research centres, industrial companies etc – it was great news. For the first time the role of H2 in the energy transition was recognised by the government
Could you break the plan down into key steps?
There were three major points that were made; the first is that green H2 was recognised as a way of reducing the CO2 footprint of the industrial sector; the second is that electrolysers have a role to play in the energy transition because of their capacity to store renewable energy into H2; and the third is that there is a great potential for H2 in a zero-emission mobility.
What was AREVA H2Gen’s reaction to the plan?
The plan of Nicolas Hulot proposes a chronology to the deployment. In a first stage it emphasises the production of decarbonised H2, which means the on not produced with natural gas by steam reforming. Then in a second stage the services that could be offered by electrolysers to the electrical grid, and finally the fact that H2 could be valued as a fuel for mobility.
The plan is extremely structuring because it proposes to develop the H2 economy in the right order. First, develop projects in order to decarbonise the industrial uses of H2 seems to us very coherent, in the way it enables to generate business cases right away. And the €100m envelope is a strong signal. We hope that on this basis the H2 economy will be able to take-off. Where we have a little worry is with the funding of 20% to acquire electrolysers.
We believe that to have an impact on the cost of H2 produced by electrolysis it is essential to reduce the cost of the electrical kilowatt hours used therefore. The cost of H2 produced by water electrolysis depends by 80% on the price of the kWh, and not really on the cost of the electrolyser. For €100 of H2 produced the support on the acquisition of the equipment is supporting 20% of €20, which is €4. In order to reduce the cost of the electrical kWh , we propose to reduce the electricity transport cost and the taxes, which represent more than 50 % of the price of the electricity, for the green H2 production projects. This would enable to have green H2 at a low price where you need it.
The three main axes of the plan are to create a carbon-free industrial sector, develop renewable energy storage capacities and develop zero-emission solutions for road, rail and river transport. How will France go about this? How will AREVA H2Gen contribute to these aims?
What’s interesting is first of all France has companies that have great interests in developing a carbon free industrial sector. Whether its Air Liquide that wants to develop it’s H2 business or whether its Alstom who has developed a H2 train, the interest of all these companies is to find the business cases that are going to stimulate the developments they have started.
As far as AREVA H2Gen is concerned, we are the only electrolyser manufacturer in France and when you talk about green H2 you talk essentially about electrolysis
When this plan is completed, what changes will there be in the country? How will it affect the world?
In the UK, in Germany and in many European countries there are developments in H2 technology. But, my belief is that the French Government has found the right leverage to make that economy develop by itself and again attract investors then I think it is really leading the way and showing the path to other European countries.
How will it change in the country? What it will change is we have now more and more measures in cities which are getting harder against diesel cars and against CO2 emissions.
The city councils are trying to stimulate electrical mobility but electrical mobility as long as it is only with batteries will be limited to a second vehicle. If we want to enable electrical mobility to become the first vehicle in the family - which also means the vehicle with which you go on vacation or take the family around, the vehicle with the most mileage – then of course there is a need of H2 vehicles. H2 has a major role.
Battery electric vehicles will have a role to play but they might stay in the role of the second car and not the major mileage vehicle in the family.
Mr Hulot said the French sector is already ahead in this industry and has many leading global manufacturers present throughout the value chain. How is France ahead? What is France doing different to other countries?
What is interesting in the way that France is trying to tackle the issues or trying to pass the hurdles to these deployments is that France had a deployment plan very focussed on captive fleet vehicles.
I think there is one fantastic example in Paris. I don’t know if it exists only in Paris, but with the Hype taxi company they have 60/70 H2 fuel cell cars driving around the city and they have a fuelling station in the centre of Paris. Now, there a couple of fuelling stations - two in the south of Paris - and it helps them to be able to fuel in different spots.
But, what’s interesting in this is that it really shows that the captive fleet model is a natural model to build an infrastructure that has right away from day one refuelling activities.
The difficulty if you build a network of 50 H2 refuelling stations all over a city and you wait for normal consumers or customers to buy H2 cars, until you get there, and it might take quite a while, you might have invested a lot of money waiting for some time for your return investment. Whereas when you deploy an infrastructure for captive fleet from day one you start right away refuelling the vehicles.
That was really the main driver in the French deployment this Hype example of H2 taxis in Paris. It’s a very interesting model.
I know for example in the UK there’s also a model like this with H2 fuel cell buses, but I don’t know how many buses there are in London. There are some FCH JU projects that are showing up and we hope in a couple of years there will be a bunch of cities that have 10-20 buses H2 buses.
The easiest, of course, is to start working with what exists and what is already mass produced. For the car business, it’s not mass produced but it’s already in the thousands. So, the access to these vehicles is easier than the access to vehicles that do not exist or are only a couple of prototypes running around.
In your own opinion do you think H2 is the way forward for the future?
Certainly otherwise I might not be doing this job! I am sure it’s the way forward for the future. I’m not saying it’s the best technology in the world, but it solves a couple of issues particularly related to mobility through the range H2 brings to an electrical vehicle and the time to refuel. These are really major issues because even in a world where you’d be able to fill up a battery car in 15 minutes, which would be the world record, still 15 minutes is never going to be acceptable. H2 has a role to play in that and that is absolutely certain. I think the energy transition comes with the deployment of that mobility.