'We're waiting to progress our giant 10GW offshore green hydrogen project — here's why we can't'



An ambitious bid to install 10GW of electrolysers powered by massive volumes of offshore wind faces challenges to its progress as a result of the German government dragging its feet over a renewables tender, and a pilot scheme key to the plan failing to get EU funding.


The AquaVentus initiative centred around the North Sea Island of Heligoland (first presented in 2020) aims at eventually producing a million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2035, which would then be transported to land via dedicated H2 pipelines.


The initiative counts on the support of over 100 member companies and research institutions – including heavyweights such as RWE, Shell and Siemens Gamesa.


The plan is divided into a series of sub-projects that are supposed to work like stepping stones. They include AquaPrimus2, a two-turbine pilot to prove H2 can be produced directly at sea; AquaDuctus, a project to transport hydrogen directly through pipelines to the German mainland; and AquaSector, a project to produce a first 20,000 tonnes of green H2 from a 300MW of electrolysers by the early 2030s, powered by offshore wind.


Making a profitable business case for green hydrogen, in general, recently has become more difficult due to cost inflation in the supply chain and the rising cost of capital, Robert Seehawer, managing director at the AquaVentus support association, told Hydrogen Insight's sister publication Recharge.


And the sector is “dependent on external factors”, Seehawer said in an interview, “the first and foremost is, when does the SEN [North Sea offshore wind area] auction start?”


Germany’s government has set aside the 1GW SEN-1 zone in the North Sea as a special innovation area for offshore wind and originally had planned to auction it off in 2022. As part of the Ostend declaration on offshore wind by various countries surrounding the North Sea, Berlin hinted at a tender last year after the country’s hydrographic and maritime agency (BSH) increased the geographical size of the zone.


The economics and climate ministry also launched a consultation on how exactly the zone should be split up into various sites, but the government so far hasn’t told the sector when or under which mechanism it intends to tender off SEN-1.


AquaVentus is awaiting the auctions and the plan’s backing group “desperately wants to progress, desperately wants to start,” Seehawer said, adding that presenting an updated timeline for AquaVentus now makes no sense before the SEN-1 auction materialises.


The economics and climate ministry didn't reply when asked by Recharge on the timing and details of the SEN-1 auction.


Once “SEN-1 is executed” the roll-out of the AquaVentus plan should be easier, Seehawer said, who reckons that then ramping up to the required capacity of offshore wind needed to facilitate 10GW of electrolysers is easily feasible.


Even if the full capacity were to be reached only in 2036 or beyond, “the question is rather: ‘how do we get this going?’” Seehawer stressed.


“It's more crucial from AquaVentus’ perspective, and also from the members within AquaVentus, that we are starting,” he said.


Stalled pilot project


Another factor holding up the grand plan is that the AquaPrimus2 pilot by utility RWE and turbine manufacturer Siemens Gamesa – featuring two 14MW turbines on fixed-bottom foundations directly connected to electrolysers – failed to secure EU funding under the Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI) mechanism.


The pilot is seen as key as it is supposed to prove that the production of green H2 from offshore wind is possible in the harsh environment of the North Sea at all.


A linked project, H2Mare, did receive funding from Germany’s science ministry. However, that is a pure R&D project geared towards proving in principle that hydrogen can be produced from offshore electricity, but in a land-based setting.


AquaPrimus2, by contrast, would also include a small desalination plant, which like the electrolyser would be placed directly on, or next to, the wind turbine at sea.


RWE’s director for floating, hydrogen and development optimisation offshore, Martin Dörnhöfer, at a recent offshore wind conference in Berlin stressed that the pilot is still needed before going to the 300MW or 1GW phase of AquaVentus – and that it should get state support.


“I would advocate that we also have small-scale funding for a demonstrator and not just look at this 1GW, because that way we can manage the ramp-up” and minimise risks, he said.


Industry is keen on proving the feasibility of offshore hydrogen, Seehawer agreed, explaining that this is key to getting insurance companies and lenders on board. He also stressed that subsidies are needed to bridge a gap with currently low prices for fossil gas or coal.


Green and blue for AquaDuctus


While the key offshore electrolyser pilot is stalled, another sub-project still advancing is the AquaDuctus plan to build a dedicated hydrogen pipeline at the bottom of the North Sea to supply Germany.


But while AquaDuctus originally planned to transport green hydrogen from North Sea offshore wind farms via Heligoland to the German mainland, the sub-project has since been extended to Norway and other neighbouring countries. It is now being planned as a pipeline that will also transport blue hydrogen – made from fossil gas linked to carbon capture and storage (CCS).


“The AquaDuctus pipeline is planned in a diameter, where both [green and blue H2] fit in. So, where green hydrogen from offshore electrolysis fits in, but also where low-carbon hydrogen from Norway fits in,” Seehawer said.


He added that “other low-carbon hydrogen” from the UK, the Netherlands or Denmark could also feed into the pipeline grid in the future and turn it into an interconnected H2 pipeline grid under the North Sea.


To enable hydrogen transports between Norway and Germany, the countries’ gas network operators, Gassco and Gascade, in April 2024 signed a memorandum of understanding aiming at transporting hydrogen via pipeline under the North Sea.


The cooperation between the companies is embedded in a strategic partnership in the fields of climate, renewable energy, and green industry between Norway and Germany that had been launched a year earlier by German climate minister Robert Habeck and Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Store together with part state-owned Equinor and RWE.


On the Norwegian side, state-owned Gassco is slated to develop the transport infrastructure for exporting hydrogen produced in Norway to Germany. On the German side, Gascade has the task of developing AquaDuctus in the North Sea for interconnecting adjacent offshore pipelines and providing the downstream connection to Germany. The goal of the planned cooperation is to ensure efficient and coherent planning of the projects.


“The cooperation with Gassco depicts the need for an open-access hydrogen infrastructure in the German North Sea to connect adjacent offshore infrastructure as provided by AquaDuctus,” Gascade managing director Christoph von dem Bussche said when the MoU was signed at the Hannover industrial exposition.


“Our common target is to align interfaces, achieve synergies and develop joint opportunities between the projects to be able to take up hydrogen volumes from Norway as of 2030.”


AquaDuctus will be capable of connecting adjacent offshore pipelines as well as production sites of green hydrogen (ie. from offshore wind) along its way, Gascade said.


RWE, Shell, Dutch gas grid operator Gasunie and Gascade as early as 2021 had supported the concept of AquaDuctus, with the original intention to pipe up to one million tonnes of green hydrogen per year from 2035.


Unlike AquaPrimus2, AquaDuctus has been awarded IPCEI status by the EU Commission, enabling state funding. Gascade is currently awaiting a formal confirmation from German authorities for construction to start.


Transporting hydrogen via pipeline would take up less sea space and be cheaper than transmitting electricity from far offshore.

When reaching the dimensions of 10GW, one hydrogen pipeline can be built instead of five high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission systems, which currently are the preferred options for bringing far-offshore wind energy to land.


As the SEN-1 zone is only planned to host 1GW for offshore electrolysis, more areas are needed for the full development of the AquaVentus plan, so Germany’s federal maritime and hydrographic agency (BSH) in its maritime spatial planning has already reserved large swathes of sea space for potential further pure offshore wind or offshore electrolysis production. Those areas are alongside the planned hydrogen pipeline, Seehawer explained.


Source: HydrogenInsight


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