Issue: September 2020, Power-to-X – Why do we need PtX?
Not a universal solution
Editorial by Jan Peter Schemmel, CEO, Oeko-Institut
Remember Desertec? At the start of the new millennium, someone in Germany came up with the bright idea of harnessing the abundant sunshine in North Africa to generate electricity in vast solar energy systems and transferring it to Europe via long-distance power lines. The idea met with an enthusiastic response. There was one problem, however – there was too much input from German desk-jockeys and not enough dialogue with the countries concerned.
Hydrogen, as a key product in power-to-X value chains, will play an important role in our future energy supply. However, it will only be genuinely green if it is produced using additional renewable energies. It is already clear that these additional renewables will not be available in sufficient quantities here in Germany and that large amounts of hydrogen will have to be imported. Having been a development professional for many years, I firmly believe that hydrogen production should be consistently aligned with and contribute to the exporting countries’ sustainable development, that our cooperation should be based on transparency, and that every new collaboration should consider the needs of the country concerned. In the interview in this issue of eco@work, Dr Joachim Fünfgelt from Bread for the World offers some exciting insights on this topic.
At the same time, we need to recognise that PtX materials are not a universal solution for a emissions-free future. It is more efficient, and more cost-effective, to use renewables-generated electricity directly than via the detour of hydrogen. Hydrogen should therefore be used – in a purposeful and carefully considered manner – only when there are no other climate-friendly options available, for example in aviation and energy-intensive industry.
Too many ifs and buts, you think? Then let me conclude by emphasising that electricity-based fuels are, of course, intriguing products that can provide powerful support for the energy transition. The enthusiastic response that these innovations may encounter here in Germany can boost our shared willingness to progress towards a sustainable future as an industrialised country. If this enthusiasm is combined with recognition of the realities and with economies of scale in PtX production, we will be on the right path.
Jan Peter Schemmel