Hydrogen to play key role in decarbonizing Central Eastern Europe

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February 13, 2021

Eastern European states are preparing to repurpose existing gas networks for the transport of hydrogen and help boost demand, according to Michał Kurtyka, Polish Minister of Climate and Environment who spoke at an online event on hydrogen in Central and Eastern Europe on Friday February 12.

Coal-powered Central and Eastern European states are looking for ways to decarbonize their industries and societies away from coal and gas. Hydrogen provides a reliable and secure way to do so.


Hydrogen in Eastern Europe

Currently, hydrogen already plays a significant role in coal and gas dependent Easter Europe. Poland is already the third largest producer of hydrogen in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. Poland has recently adopted its energy plan for 2040 and aims for one third of its electricity capacity to be green by 2030. Poland has also recently launched a national hydrogen strategy, Bulgaria has launched a national roadmap for hydrogen, Slovakia has recently established a centre for hydrogen technology and Croatia is similarly preparing for a national hydrogen programme. 

Most importantly, the costs for hydrogen production need to be brought down by increasing the volume of hydrogen production. Speakers at the online event called on policymakers in Europe to set aside the debate about the sources of hydrogen production – whether from natural gas or renewable electricity – and focus instead on scaling up production. That means moving away from referring to hydrogen by its colour – grey, blue or green depending on its source – and focusing more on CO2 emissions.

“We shouldn’t be looking at this colours definition, but we should be looking at the CO2 content, which is necessary for the production return,” said Kurtyka, adding that the EU should adopt a technology neutral approach which also embraces low-carbon hydrogen produced from nuclear electricity.

Gas pipelines already exist across the EU, including Soviet-era networks in many Central and Eastern European countries. In Slovakia, there is currently a project looking at whether these could be repurposed to carry hydrogen. However, hydrogen may be perceived as too expensive compared to traditional fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal which may harm public acceptance of hydrogen production in these countries.

According to Milan Sedlácek, head of EU affairs and strategy at Eustream, the gas transmission system operator in Slovakia: "It demonstrates the problems with access to energy in post-communist countries and low income households especially. Those low income households, of course, have a tendency to switch to cheap and dirty energy carriers, which immediately run the countries, together with coal usage, into problems with air pollution,”.

Although there are many projects related to scaling hydrogen in Central and Eastern European countries, the Commission is hoping to provide an additional boost to hydrogen production as part of its hydrogen strategy and the Green Deal.