Germany set to overbuild its hydrogen pipeline network: analyst
The government’s planned 9,700km network will be drastically oversized in the short term, with its import capacity underutilised in 2050, according to Aurora Energy Research
The German government is on track to build more hydrogen pipelines than needed to meet H2 demand by 2030, while also setting itself up for unused capacity at border crossing points, warns UK-headquartered Aurora Energy Research.
The research firm’s analysis, commissioned by German gas storage operator coalition INES, notes that proposed 9,700km core network — unveiled by the government in November and currently undergoing consultation until next week — assumes hydrogen demand will grow from 56TWh today to 279TWh by 2032.
However, the government’s own strategy foresees 95-130TWh of demand by 2030, while Aurora predicts that based on current market development, the country will only need 73TWh of H2 by that year — meaning the pipeline network may only carry a quarter of its capacity at first.
Even in the research firm’s more optimistic net-zero scenario, hydrogen demand only reaches 122.6TWh, still leaving Germany’s pipelines underutilised at the start of next decade.
Aurora acknowledges that in the long term, it forecasts 303.2TWh of demand by 2050 based on current market development — matching up more closely with the pipeline network’s capacity — and 562TWh in its net zero scenario.
However, of this 303.2TWh, the research firm also predicts that 148TWh could be shipped into Germany, with 29TWh specifically brought in as derivatives such as ammonia and methanol, while only 73TWh will be imported via pipeline.
Hydrogen Insight has reached out to Aurora for further clarification on how this split was modelled, given transportation of hydrogen gas via pipeline is generally expected to be much cheaper than shipping the molecule as a liquid or through carriers.
Aurora argues that the pipeline network would need less than 10GWh/h of import capacity at border crossing points with Denmark, Norway, France and Italy to cover Germany’s hydrogen demand by 2032, while only 28GWh/h of import capacity would be needed by 2050.
However, the proposed network includes, 13 cross-border import routes with a combined capacity of 59GWh/h, which the research firm warns could end up underused in the long term.
Aurora adds that even in its net zero scenario, “the required border crossing capacities are, according to a rough estimate, only 52GWh/h in 2050”.
As such, it cautions that based on the risk of oversizing and creation of unused capacities in the long term, the current plan for the hydrogen pipeline network “does not provide a robust path”.
Aurora also calls in its report for further planning around domestic storage capacities for the network, as “storage makes it possible to reduce the otherwise required capacities of import routes”.
“In view of the enormous quantities of hydrogen consumed, the hydrogen core network appears to be more of a hydrogen target network, and the truth is that we cannot yet see exactly what the target is,” said Sebastian Heinermann, managing director of INES, in a comment on the findings.
He added: “The Aurora short analysis shows us how great the uncertainties in network planning currently still are and how great the risk is that overcapacities will now be developed that may never be utilized. We therefore recommend identifying those parts of the hydrogen network for which there is relevance across several scenarios. For these parts of the network, dimensioning for longer-term requirements seems sensible.”