German path to carbon neutrality achievable and affordable: research

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany can reach its target of becoming largely carbon-free by 2050 if it keeps expanding renewable power and introduces a hydrogen economy, one of the country’s biggest research centers said on Thursday.

Presenting a study on energy transition to the middle of the century in Berlin, experts of the Forschungszentrum (FZ) Juelich which is among researchers in close contact with the government also said costs of transition could be kept low.

“We can reach a renewable transformation to 95% carbon savings at tolerable cost relative to GDP,” said Detlef Stolten, director of the Institute of Energy and Climate Research at North-Rhine Westphalia-based FZ Juelich.

Under the Paris climate accord, Germany is committed to cutting CO2 emissions by 55% from 1990 levels and by 80% to 95% by 2050.

Thursday’s presentation came in the context of landmark climate legislation agreed by the cabinet earlier this month and due to be passed by the end of the year.

Four ministries are due to consult next week on a hydrogen strategy they want to have penned by year-end.

The economy minister has recognized hydrogen as offering a green alternative to fossil fuels.

By splitting mainly surplus renewable power into oxygen and hydrogen, water-based electrolysis can produce zero carbon fuels easy to store and transport.

The FZ Juelich model entails Germany adding 6.6 gigawatts (GW) of wind turbine and 3.9 GW of solar power capacity each year from 2020 on, to help electrify the economy.

This is steep, given that in 2018 wind expansions slowed to 2.2 GW and in 2019 to 0.5 GW, while solar additions ranged only near 3 GW in both years, due to red tape and scepticism over legislative and acceptance hurdles.

“But without renewables expansion, the story is dead,” said Martin Robinius, head of the Process and Systems Analysis Department at Stolten’s institute.

Juelich envisaged hydrogen demand of 12 million tonnes by 2050, compared with 1.7 million at the moment, and pipelines, landing terminals and storage units to allow for around half of this volume to be imported.

Domestic biomass could provide feedstock for guaranteeing secure power generation during periods of low wind and sunshine.

Rebuilding the infrastructure this way would cost 1.1 to 2.8% of GDP annually, well within the range of the 1.9% of GDP that Germany paid for fossil fuels imports in 2018.

Reporting by Vera Eckert, editing by Elaine Hardcastle