EU’s future hydrogen grid takes shape after Parliament vote

In a vote on Thursday (9 February), the European Parliament’s industry committee set out its position on future rules governing hydrogen networks in a bid to transition away from fossil gas.

The European Commission presented its so-called “gas package” in December 2021, paving the way for Europe to transition towards low-carbon gases and hydrogen.

This, in turn, will entail a massive transformation of Europe’s gas infrastructure.

“The age of hydrogen is coming,” said Jerzy Buzek, a centre-right lawmaker from Poland, who is responsible for the recast EU regulation on gas and hydrogen networks.

“To make it happen in the EU, we need a stable and well-balanced regulatory framework, financial support as well as investments in new infrastructure,” he commented after a vote in the Parliament’s industry committee (ITRE) on Thursday (9 February).

Jens Geier, a German socialist in charge of the recast directive on gas and hydrogen, said the vote was “the next step towards a climate-neutral Europe.”

Their joint goal was to “facilitate the uptake of renewable and low-carbon gases, including hydrogen, into the EU gas market,” the European Parliament said in a statement. Low-carbon gases include biogas, like methane harvested from biological waste, as well as hydrogen.

Lawmakers in the Parliament’s industry committee backed their final text, with 62 votes in favour and two against for Geier’s report, while Buzek’s passed with 54 votes in favour and 17 against.

This means Parliament is now ready to enter negotiations with the 27 EU countries, pending a formal vote of approval in the Parliament’s plenary. The vote, scheduled in March, will prevent lawmakers from making last-minute changes to the laws, with MEPs only offered the choice of approving or rejecting the two texts.

EU countries, for their part, have yet to adopt a shared negotiating position in the EU Council of Ministers.

Financing issue

By 2050, the EU executive estimates that gaseous fuels, largely hydrogen and biogases, will make up a fifth of final energy consumption. By 2030, Europe is expected to have a pure hydrogen market in place.

But building the infrastructure necessary is costly, making finance one of the key questions Parliament had to address. Unlike the European Commission, which sought to impose a clear separation between gas and hydrogen networks, Parliament took a more lenient stance.

“This is like letting the foxes design the hen houses in the first place,” commented Silvia Pastorelli, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace.

Geier, the German socialist in charge of designing the investment rules, defended his approach, saying it allows for “more certainty for investments in hydrogen infrastructure based on the existing natural gas grid, instead of imposing restrictions on investment.”

Regulatory oversight

In theory, hydrogen and fossil gas are direct competitors and campaigners stress that legacy gas companies have an interest in obstructing the switch to hydrogen.

In order to prevent an overlap, the European Commission had initially proposed establishing a new independent regulatory body – the European Network of Network Operators for Hydrogen (ENNOH) – to promote a “dedicated hydrogen infrastructure” and address technical issues.

But the proposed body would be scrapped under Geier’s report, which was voted on by the Parliament’s industry committee.

Instead, lawmakers want to reform the existing European gas transmission network body ENTSOG “to also cover hydrogen network operators.” 

This was welcomed by legacy players. “Parliament’s approach goes in the right direction for the creation of a predictable regulatory framework for hydrogen,” said Carmen Gimeno, secretary-general of Geode, an association representing local gas and electricity distribution companies.

Green activists, on the other hand, were less enthused. Empowering gas companies could create “considerable governance problems,” commented Esther Bollendorff, gas expert at Climate Action Network Europe.

Decommissioning gas infrastructure

Whichever body ultimately regulates the EU’s hydrogen market will face a massive task ahead. Gas consumption is expected to drop in the coming decades as fossil gas is gradually replaced by electricity for household and industrial heat, making existing pipes increasingly superfluous.

Parliament wants local authorities to decide how homes will be heated in the future, using a combination of clean alternatives to gas such as heat pumps, district heating or geothermal.

“This is accompanied by a possible dismantling of gas pipelines, namely when buildings can be better heated via heat pumps or district heating,” explained Claudia Gamon, an Austrian liberal who co-negotiated the laws.

While hydrogen is expected to play a significant role in decarbonising heavy industries like steelmaking and chemicals, its usage in other sectors like road transport and heating is subject to controversy.

Geier, who hails from Duisburg where large German steelmakers like ThyssenKrupp are located, stresses that “hydrogen is to be prioritised in sectors that are hard to decarbonise in order to support the European industry’s transformation.”


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