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Here’s how clean Norwegian hydrogen will underpin Europe’s energy security.

Whether it’s the stars at night or the sun’s heat melting the ice in spring, almost everything in the world is linked to hydrogen in some way. It’s the most common element in the entire universe and makes up 75 percent of all mass.

Now the world’s most common element is about to take on a new role. With its combustible properties and enormous energy potential, hydrogen made from natural gas can become an important source of clean energy to Europe.

A big role for little Norway

Norway has been one of the most important suppliers of energy to Europe for several decades, and not least due to natural gas. Now that Europe is importing less gas from Russia, Norway’s role as a reliable gas supplier has become even more important.

But at the same time, the world is in the middle of a climate crisis. We have to bear this in mind when planning for how Norway and Equinor will supply energy to Europe in the coming decades. We will need to develop completely new solutions.

“Most European countries and companies have set themselves the goal of net zero emissions in 2050, because the climate cannot tolerate much more CO2 in the atmosphere. Through our projects, we can help countries and companies achieve their climate goals,” says Grete Tveit, director of low-carbon solutions at Equinor.

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Director of Low Carbon Solutions at Equinor: Grete Tveit
Photo: Arne Reidar Mortensen

Equinor is already working on several projects, both in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and England to reduce emissions from natural gas. This is to be done, among other things, by converting natural gas into hydrogen, while the CO2 emissions from the process are captured and stored permanently underground.

"In this way, we decarbonise the use of natural gas and ensure a sustainable energy system," says Tveit.

A German-Norwegian collaboration

Earlier this year, another important piece came into place in the development of future energy supplies to Europe. Equinor and Germany's largest energy company RWE agreed to work together to ensure sustainable and reliable energy for Europe.

The collaboration includes large-scale hydrogen production in Norway for export to Germany, and comes despite long term German sceptisism to hydrogen produced from natural gas, because it comes from a fossil energy source.

In Germany, hydrogen will be used in power generation to phase out coal-fired power stations. Instead, new gas-fired power plants will be built that can eventually replace the use of natural gas with hydrogen as soon as it is ready for export from Norway.

Germany and Norway have long collaborated on energy, and the agreement with RWE can strengthen this partnership. Developing a decarbonised energy system in Europe will ensure jobs, industry and value creation, while both people and society will have access to enough energy.

"Hydrogen from natural gas with CO2 capture and storage, often called "blue hydrogen", is one of the answers to how we can bridge the gap between developments on the Norwegian continental shelf and the goals from the Paris Agreement," says Ulrik Olbjørn in Equinor.

  1. This is one of Germany's many coal-fired power plants.
  2. They account for 34 percent of all the country's greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. Within seven years, all coal-fired power plants must be replaced with gas-fired power plants.
  4. It is a political ambition that the gas power plants will burn hydrogen from 2035.

Olbjørn in Equinor leads the Hydrogen project of which the RWE agreement is a part. The project involves building a hydrogen factory in Western Norway. There, the gas — which was previously sent to Europe in its natural form — will be converted into blue hydrogen and sent in pipes to Europe, which has a great need to import hydrogen to meet its climate goals.

Since the CO2 has already been removed, the by-product from burning hydrogen will only be water, not CO2.

"The plan is to start with natural gas, which will gradually be replaced by hydrogen from Norway," says Olbjørn.

Ulrik Olbjørn. Equinor. Leads the Hydrogen project of which the RWE agreement is a part.
Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland

The necessary transition

We have long been aware of how hydrogen can contribute to the energy transition. Nevertheless, it has been difficult to achieve in practice.

Now, however, it is about to loosen and a European market for hydrogen is under development. With increased attention to energy security and energy transition, there has been a change of pace in the development of hydrogen projects.

But there is still much to be done. In order to realize the projects, Equinor needs large industrial customers and long-term demand to be able to defend the investments.

"These are very large projects, and although our solutions with lower emissions are in demand in Europe, a lot of work remains before an investment decision can be made," says Olbjørn.

He points to both politics and economics — and not least that completely new pipes may have to be built to transport the hydrogen to customers.

"I still choose to be an optimist. We have built pipes to Europe before," says Olbjørn.

Huge ripple effects

Giant projects of a nature like this are going to cost. The entire hydrogen project will involve significant investments. Gassco, for example, has estimated the price of a new pipeline alone to cost NOK 30 billion.

"If it were free to cut emissions, it would have been done a long time ago. Large investments are required to realize these projects," he says.

"We are also looking at customers outside the RWE collaboration and Germany. There are many industrial customers who will use hydrogen in their daily operations both in Belgium, the Netherlands and France. There are several industries that have to reduce emissions, but which cannot be electrified," says Olbjørn, pointing to the steel industry and the chemical industry, among others.

"That's when hydrogen is perfect," he says.

Come the summer, Equinor will make a decision on how the project can be matured going forward.

"The final investment decision is planned for 2026. Hydrogen exports are planned to start around 2030," says Olbjørn.

The ripple effects of such a project will be enormous in Norway. The construction phase alone of the hydrogen plant in Western Norway will take several years, and require many man-years. In addition, there is everything else that needs to be done, such as the construction of pipes and the development of offshore wind farms.

The plans to further develop Norway's role as a reliable energy supplier to Europe are ambitious, but still very much in the starting lane. With the enormous changes needed to ensure both energy security, lower climate emissions and the development of Norwegian jobs, you have to aim for the stars.

And that's exactly what is happening now.

Norwegian hydrogen can be used for this

  • Decarbonise heavy industry such as the steel industry, chemical industry and fertilizer industry.
  • Replace coal-fired power plants, and eventually gas-fired power plants, to ensure a backup supply of energy at times when the wind is calm and the sun is not shining.
  • Use as fuel in heavy transport, such as the maritime industry and air traffic.

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