Lost in translation
The dirt on Canada and Germany’s clean energy deal
As he wrapped up a whirlwind trip on Tuesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz talked about friendship. Earlier that day, he had raced hydrogen-powered toy cars with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a trade show and inked a five-year deal between the two countries vowing to develop a path for Canadian-made hydrogen to reach German shores.
Canada and Germany “fit together,” he told reporters in German, standing beside the water’s edge in Stephenville, N.L. The two countries “have similar ambitions and goals and ideas about how we can stop man-made climate change.”
But “similar” does not mean the same. And if you read between the lines of the new Canada-Germany alliance, it’s clear the two countries have different definitions of what “clean” hydrogen actually is. As John Woodside reports, that point of disagreement could determine their future hydrogen plans together.
First off, the alliance: Canada and Germany want to develop a supply chain for “clean” hydrogen, a gas that burns pollution-free and could be used in hard-to-decarbonize industries like steel- and cement-making. They’re not wasting any time, either — if all goes to plan, we could be exporting hydrogen from this side of the Atlantic as early as 2025. Already, several companies have plans for East Coast facilities, and one has already secured a German buyer.
By German standards, clean hydrogen can only be produced using renewable energy like wind and solar. Canada, on the other hand, wants to add hydrogen made from natural gas to the mix, so long as the greenhouse gas emissions that come with it are mostly stopped using carbon capture technology.
The first two projects under consideration meet Germany’s definition of “clean” — they’re proposing to use wind energy to produce their hydrogen. But the new alliance doesn’t rule out hydrogen made from natural gas or other energy deals involving fossil fuels. In the leadup to Scholz’s visit, several prominent cabinet ministers talked up the possibility of shipping liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the East Coast to Europe. Even though Trudeau later acknowledged there isn’t a clear business case for LNG right now, that option remains on the table.
Even without LNG in the mix, Canada’s idea of “clean” hydrogen made with natural gas and carbon capture gives fossil fuels a place in energy production well into the future — a possibility that raises red flags for environmentalists, given scientists say the world already has too much fossil fuel infrastructure to keep global warming at or near 1.5 C.
Going forward, the deal means Canada and Germany will have to get on the same page. The two countries have agreed to develop an approach that could “help define what clean, low-carbon, and renewable hydrogen are” for both countries. Meanwhile, Canadian companies are eager to get the ball rolling on approvals for their hydrogen projects, worried the country could lose out to U.S. suppliers if it waits too long.
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