Nuclear wins inclusion as “green” source for hydrogen

French energy minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher

France appears to wins another round against Germany in the fight to have nuclear included as a clean energy source within EU Commission rules. The EU has agreed that nuclear energy powered hydrogen will be classified as “green,” so long as the carbon-intensity of the country’s electricity is below 65 grammes of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour.

Early reporting on the EU Commission’s decision regarding classification of hydrogen as “green” indicates that, once again, the EU will be recognizing low-carbon nuclear power as “green.”

For more than a year, the EU has been assessing and evaluating the best way to ensure that hydrogen producers can’t easily claim “green” production by using existing renewable energy, in a form of greenwashing, that simply takes credit fo renewable power that was being used elsewhere. This has forced the EU to look closely at both “additionality” and “carbon intensity.”

The new rules, a draft version of which leaked out but which have not been formally published, seek to ensure that that green hydrogen is made only from “additional” renewable power, by forcing the producer to correlate its production in time and space to prevent cannibalisation of existing sources of clean energy. The Commission has finally arrived at a decision and set out two important additionality criteria:

  • By 2030, hydrogen production must be matched to renewable energy production on an hourly basis. Until then, the correlation is set on a monthly basis.
  • By 2028, hydrogen producers must prove that their electrolysers are connected to renewable energy installations no older than 36 months.

This decision enables investments in new hydrogen production to move forward with a clear understanding of how that production can benefit from the benefits available to clean energy until 90% of electricity production in a given country is produced from low-carbon sources.

While Germany has sought to exclude nuclear energy as a clean power source, France has been lobbying Brussels on the opposite side, arguing that hydrogen produced by nuclear power is also be considered “green.” It appears that France has won its case in the draft rules.

In recognition of nuclear’s low-carbon production, the EU has agreed that hydrogen produced in a country like France with the intensity of electricity is lower than 18 gCO2eq/MJs (or approximately 65 grammes of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour), then the hydrogen can qualify as green. 

Among all 27 EU countries, only France and Sweden meet this criteria. In 2021, when its nuclear fleet was almost fully operational, French power was 70% of its energy, 85% low-carbon and emissions stood at 56g CO2e per kWh. Sweden, for its part, powered predominantly with hydropower, stands at an average of 28gCO2e/Kwh.

Not only is this EU rule a win for pronuclear countries, it is laying an important precedent in setting out a base level of carbon-intensity that recognizes that what matters is the carbon-intensity of the total grid, not the amount of renewable energy. We believe this will be of increasing importance over time.

Read more at EURACTIV LEAK: France wins recognition for nuclear in EU’s green hydrogen rules, by Nikolaus J. Kurmayer, Feb. 11, 2023.