ENGIE’s Ambition and Strategy for Hydrogen: Interview with Michèle Azalbert, General Manager of the Hydrogen BU

By May 22, 2019 6   min read  (1120 words)

May 22, 2019 |

Engie Michele Azalbert

What is ENGIE’s ambition and strategy for hydrogen?

ENGIE is at the forefront of the energy revolution to accelerate the advent of an energy system where energy will be decentralized, decarbonised and digitized and where renewable energies will have a predominant place.

We believe that renewable hydrogen, produced by electrolysis of water, can accelerate the massive deployment of intermittent renewable energies, because it allows them to be stored in large quantities. It helps to ensure that the sun shines at night. This is the missing link to a 100% decarbonated energy system.

Energy systems and associated infrastructures will have to evolve to ensure their stability at the best cost.
The share of renewable energy in the global energy mix will continue to increase. Energy systems will rely more on intermittent sources of energy whose production chronicles will be variable, discontinuous and non-programmable. On the consumption side, we also anticipate strong amplitudes in calls for power to power grids (fast charging solution for electric vehicles, ships docked can no longer use their diesel generators to provide electricity, air conditioning … ). Hydrogen can, next to batteries, provide stability services to power grids, batteries sending immediate power, and hydrogen providing solutions over longer periods.

In addition, production areas will sometimes be distant from consumption areas. Carrying hydrogen in gaseous form may be less expensive than transporting the electron on a power line over long distances.

Beyond storage, hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier. It can be used in different forms. It is used as a gas in industrial processes, it can also be injected into gas networks. It can also be reconverted into electricity via fuel cells, serve as fuel for vehicles, offer solutions (heat) for the thermal needs of buildings.

The future of energy consists for ENGIE in a renewable multi-energy mix (biogas, solar, wind, hydraulic …) made possible thanks to renewable hydrogen, which allows:

  • to store energy and restore it (in the form of gas or electricity) when renewables do not produce and to provide flexibility services to networks,
  • to develop a more sustainable mobility, zero-emission (100% without particles or CO 2 ) in addition to all-electric mobility, especially for intensive use, long distances or heavy vehicles (buses, taxis, forklifts, trains , …), where the charging time of vehicles and their autonomy count,
  • to decarbonise industrial processes using hydrogen (fertilizer, refinery, chemistry, …). Today, we consume around 60 million tonnes of hydrogen per year worldwide. This hydrogen is essentially produced by vapor reforming of gas. This process generates more than 10 kg of CO 2 per 1 kg of hydrogen produced.

According to a study by McKinsey at the request of the Hydrogen Council, the size of the Hydrogen market is expected to increase by a factor of 10 by 2050. By this time hydrogen is expected to be in the range of 20 % of final energy demand. It is expected to help reduce CO 2 emissions by 6 Gt , or about 20% of the reductions required under the Paris Agreement to keep global warming below 2 ° C.

Why have you created a business unit dedicated to hydrogen and what are your ambitions?

For more than 20 years, ENGIE has been conducting research in the field of hydrogen. We have already developed several demonstrators and have several projects under development in the group on the entire hydrogen value chain. These projects demonstrate the technical viability of solutions and infrastructures developed around hydrogen.

The GRHYD project in Dunkerque is testing the production of hydrogen from renewable electricity and its injection into the natural gas distribution network.

Regarding access to energy self-sufficiency, the island of Semakau off Singapore has become a real size laboratory for the deployment of an autonomous energy network, a mini-multi-energy network (production of hydrogen by electrolysis of water, storage of hybrid energy with batteries and hydrogen, fuel cell energy production and hydrogen vehicle charging station).

In the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region, the Zero Emission Valley project (ZEV) – led by the Region, Michelin and Engie – aims to deploy from April 2019 a global solution for green mobility across the territory. This solution includes production facilities (15 electrolysers), storage, transport, hydrogen refueling (20 charging stations) and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (1000 vehicles).

We think the time has come to deploy large scale solutions. The goal is to lower the cost of infrastructure and make it accessible to all. The challenge is no longer that of technical viability but it is economical. We anticipate a lower cost of electrolyzers by more than half by 2030, thanks to economies of scale in mass production of electrolyzers and improvement of existing technologies (as was the case with photovoltaic panels during the last decade). We believe that parity with the gray hydrogen (produced by steam reforming gas) is available for 2030 in certain geographies.

It is this conviction that led us in early 2018 to create a global business unit dedicated to renewable hydrogen.
ENGIE’s ambition is to become a major player in renewable hydrogen, present internationally and throughout the value chain.
We aim to develop large production infrastructures to serve our customers in a sustainable and economical way. Our priority targets are industrialists and territories wishing to reduce their carbon footprint and ready to position themselves at the forefront of the energy transition. We are targeting areas with high potential for renewable energies, where the group already has a strong local presence.

ENGIE has a unique positioning. Designing, building and operating such infrastructures at the service of our customers requires knowing how to control all gas and electricity chains and associated risks, to understand the processes and needs of our customers, to develop complex infrastructures to meet them ( engineering, construction) and reactively intervene on site in case of need (maintenance).

We are currently developing a project portfolio of several Gigawatts futures in different geographies around different uses (industry, intensive mobility and network services). For example, alongside Gasunie (manager of the large gas and storage transmission network), we have the ambition to deploy an integrated green hydrogen value chain of industrial size (> GW) over time. in the North of the Netherlands to serve a wide variety of buyers (transport, chemical industry, heating networks, etc.).
The project is phased, with progressive deployments over time of production units of increasing size. The first step is the construction in the early 2020s of a hydrogen production unit> 100 MW at the Eemshaven site to supply industrial customers in the near region. The joint feasibility study will start in early 2019.

Our vision is shared by a growing number of market players and governments, including France, the Netherlands, the United States, Australia, Korea and Japan, who are developing ambitious plans to support hydrogen. . We work hand in hand with all public and private partners to make 100% decarbonated hydrogen a reality accessible to all. Renewable energies are a common good and technological innovation contributes to more harmonious progress.


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