How Spain is positioning itself to become Europe’s leading hydrogen hub

17 July, 2023

Hydrogen is an exceptional ally in the energy transition to decarbonise the economy. While electrification will be relevant for achieving Europe’s climate neutrality targets, hydrogen will be decisive in those cases where electrification may not be the best option, such as maritime transport or energy-intensive industry.

Spain is one of the countries with the greatest potential to play a leading role in the development of this new energy carrier, mainly due to its excellent geographical location and the existence of a powerful network of gas infrastructures that could become the basis of the future hydrogen network.

Our country is at a crucial moment, when it must harness all this potential to promote innovation, attract investment and achieve new industrial development around this new value chain. And, at the same time, to turn renewable hydrogen into an ally that allows us to reduce emissions, improve air quality and create a more sustainable future. All the while generating employment and stimulating local economies.

High production capacity and a benchmark in renewable generation

Spain has multiple attributes to position itself as Europe’s leading renewable hydrogen hub. It is estimated that it could have a production capacity of between two and three million tonnes by 2030, an amount that could be doubled, according to Enagás data.

Spain could have a production capacity of between two and three million tonnes of hydrogen by 2030

In addition, renewable energies have been growing rapidly at the national level for decades. According to the latest data available from REE for the month of March, our country ranks third (after Germany and the Netherlands) in installed solar power capacity in Europe. Spain is also the second EU country, again after Germany, in installed wind power capacity (our main source of electricity, 22% of the mix). This is significant since both energies are necessary for the production of renewable hydrogen.

Excellent geographical position together with a meshed network of infrastructures

Spain is in a strategic position to produce hydrogen and supply it to the rest of Europe. In addition to being the nexus between the European continent and North Africa, its location in the Mediterranean region, as well as its proximity to the Middle East, could make our country a leader in the global hydrogen market.

Another of Spain’s strengths is its extensive natural gas transmission network that can be adapted for renewable hydrogen

Another of Spain’s strengths is its extensive natural gas transmission network that can be adapted for renewable hydrogen. Current routes and the future hydrogen network coincide to 80%; and Enagás (the Spanish gas system operator) has already identified 30% of the sections where pipelines could be transformed into hydrogen products.

Industrial capacity and public-private partnerships

Spain’s potential to boost the hydrogen economy is also conditioned by the participation of companies in all aspects of the hydrogen value chain: production, transmission, distribution, storage and use.

In the case of Spain, there are many leading energy, engineering, consultancy, construction and training companies whose know-how can be key to boosting its deployment. Collaboration between all parties involved will also be extremely important if the creation of a large hydrogen hub in Spain is to become a reality.

We have some clear examples of collaboration between public and private institutions such as the various Hydrogen Valleys that are being promoted throughout the region.

The roll out of hydrogen is largely being leveraged in these locations, which are the major industrial consumption areas. For example, several hydrogen production projects by large industrial consumers have already announced that they will switch their production processes to this renewable energy. It is precisely these large industrial consumers, such as oil refineries, that are central to the planning of the future hydrogen network. However, these valleys need infrastructure to connect supply and demand points.

Some examples of collaborative projects are the Basque Hydrogen Corridor, with the participation of 78 public and private entities; or the Hydrogen Valley of Catalonia, with 100 participants including companies, universities, associations, public administrations and research centres.

What is Spain already doing to achieve this?

The Hydrogen Roadmap sets out, among other things, ambitious national targets for 2030 and 2050, when the country expects to achieve climate neutrality and have a 100% renewable energy system.

In addition, the draft of the first update of the Integrated National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan 2021-2030 (PNIEC), published at the end of June, increases the targets for boosting large-scale hydrogen production and use. To this end, it has established an installed capacity of 11 gigawatts (GW) of electrolysers for the production of renewable hydrogen in Spain by 2030, compared to the 4 GW that were planned in the draft approved three years ago.

And at the European level, major plans have been announced to increase production (10 million tonnes) and consumption of green hydrogen (20 million tonnes) by 2030.

Furthermore, the REPowerEU program envisages the development of five hydrogen corridors to connect producer countries with demand centres. In this context, Spain is not only a potential major producer, but also has the capacity to export to other EU countries.

One of the projects with which Spain has attracted attention is the first renewable hydrogen corridor in Europe. Known as H2Med, it is a key infrastructure that will enable the transmission of up to 2 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen per year. In other words, 10% of the expected consumption in Europe as a whole.

H2Med will transport up to 2 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen per year

The corridor, promoted by Enagás in Spain and the French TSOs GRTgaz and Teréga, as well as the Portuguese REN, includes connection points with Portugal and France. Germany is also involved, so hydrogen may travel to the centre of Europe from the mainland.

Together with H2Med, Enagás also presented the first two axes of the Spanish Hydrogen Backbone Network to the European Union’s PCIs (Projects of Common Interest).

One of these comprises the Cantabrian Coast Axis, the Ebro Valley Axis and the Levante Axis; the other, the Vía de la Plata Axis connected to the Puertollano Hydrogen Valley. It also presented a proposal to study possible underground storage facilities in the Basque Country and Cantabria. All of them have received a first positive technical qualification from the European Commission to be eligible for EU funding.