Canada, Germany to set targets and timelines for hydrogen development and exports

·4 min read

OTTAWA — An energy pact between Canada and Germany expected to be signed next week in Newfoundland and Labrador will set aggressive timelines and targets for exporting hydrogen to Germany, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Friday.

While Germany's preference is for "green" hydrogen produced from water with renewable power sources that has a very low carbon footprint, Wilkinson is not ruling out involving "blue" hydrogen made from natural gas using carbon capture and storage to trap emissions.

Canadians should also expect announcements related to the role Canada can play exporting critical minerals that are needed in the technology that produces hydrogen, he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will arrive in Canada for a three-day visit Sunday, his first since he took over from longtime chancellor Angela Merkel last December.

His trip will take him first to Montreal and then Toronto before he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take off for the western Newfoundland port town of Stephenville.

It is home to a planned "green hydrogen" production facility, and it is there the two leaders will formally sign a Canada-German energy agreement that has been months in the making.

"The agreement will be, as you will see, something that essentially sets the framework for collaboration going forward," Wilkinson said in an interview Friday.

"But it will set some targets in terms of timelines around when we would like to see actual product moving from Canada to Germany, and both will be pretty aggressive."

He said both countries will pledge to to work with the private sector to meet those targets.

Canada was initiating talks with many countries, including Germany, about clean energy exports before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.

That invasion "has changed everything for Europe and further energy security," Trudeau said Friday, during a news conference in Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Que.

Canada has been looking at what it can do quickly to ease Germany's reliance on Russian oil and gas.

Trudeau said realistically the short-term possibilities are limited, and the talks with Germany are playing a longer game to cut reliance on Russia and fossil fuels in general.

"How can we make sure that this illegal Russian invasion and the unreliability of Russia as an energy partner, actually incites and allows us all to pivot, not just off Russian oil and gas more quickly, but to pivot off oil and gas as something we rely on so much," he said.

Canada's hydrogen strategy, developed in 2020, seeks to be one of the world's top-three hydrogen exporters within 30 years. At the moment, the International Renewable Energy Agency doesn't include Canada on its list of the six places most likely to become hydrogen superpowers.

That distinction goes to China, Europe, Japan, South Korea, the United States and India.

Wilkinson said getting on that list will require being focused and fast on doing everything it takes to help industry ramp up. And he said it's not only about exports.

"I would say that one has to start by thinking about domestic uses of hydrogen," he said.

Constantin Zerger, head of energy and climate protection at Environmental Action Germany, said in a panel discussion Thursday that Germany is also ramping up its own hydrogen production but it will need significant imports to meet the needs of its climate strategy, particularly after 2030.

German research firm Fraunhofer said in a recent report that demand will almost double by 2030, more than triple by 2040, and by 2050, the country's need could be seven to 14 times bigger than its current production.

But Zerger and other climate activists don't want this agreement to allow room for hydrogen produced from natural gas, even if carbon capture and storage technology is used to trap the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions.

Zerger said Germany needs to be clear that it only wants green hydrogen, the kind that comes from using electrolysis to split apart water molecules.

The German government is also more interested in green hydrogen, though it isn't closing the door to blue.

Wilkinson said the colour labels are a "pet peeve," and what matters is the total carbon intensity.

"So Germany has had a preference, an express preference for hydrogen that comes from renewable," he said.

"My argument with the Germans and with everybody else is, let's change the nature of the conversation to one that focuses on the carbon intensity of the hydrogen. And it may well be that some countries have a preference for hydrogen that's derived from one pathway or another but at the end of the day, if you can produce hydrogen that has zero or virtually zero carbon emissions, I mean, from my perspective, who cares where it comes from?"

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2022.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press