Europe lacks storage for future hydrogen needs: GIE
Even if Europe repurposes all its existing natural gas storage facilities, the continent will still fall "far short" of the capacity needed for the future hydrogen demand that is expected, Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE) reported on June 16.
The report is based on the findings of the European Hydrogen Backbone (EHB) initiative, which aims to create a 40,000-km European hydrogen network by 2040. It focuses on the same 21 countries – 19 EU members plus the UK and Switzerland – as the EHB project.
These 21 countries could store up to 264.7 TWh of hydrogen by 2050, but based on the current ratio between gas storage capacity and demand, 366.4 TWh of capacity is needed. There is 1.1 PWh of working gas capacity at present, used for 4.62 PWh/yr of demand. But hydrogen has a far lower density than gas, meaning four times more space is needed to store the same amount of energy.
"This insufficient capacity is mostly caused by the much lower volumetric energy density of hydrogen compared to natural gas, which leads to a decrease in the amount of energy that can be stored in an unaltered storage site," the GIE said. "Additional storage sites would need to be developed or existing sites would have to be expanded."
GIE also noted that salt caverns were the only kind of storage facility that have been proven as suitable for storing hydrogen. Converting all salt caverns would provide 50 TWh of storage capacity by 2030, but 72.2 TWh is needed, the group said. Furthermore, this space would be concentrated in Germany, where there is 39.5 TWh of potential storage capacity.
Storing hydrogen in salt caverns "is a low-hanging fruit" but all types of storage are needed for hydrogen.
"Depleted gas fields and aquifers are likely to be usable for hydrogen and are present more widely across Europe, so these will need to be utilised as well," the GIE said. "To be ready for substantial hydrogen demand and regional pipeline networks by 2030, we need to start on the storage now."
Repurposing storage can take up to seven years, while establishing new facilities can take up to 10 years. Storage system operators have a key role to play in investigating whether their facilities are fit for repurpose, the GIE said. Several pilot projects are already underway.
"More field testing and R&D is needed, however," the GIE said. "Certain repurposing actions could be standardised to streamline the procedure. Some storage operators have also taken a commercial role in the planning of new hydrogen projects."
The GIE also said that a "clear business case and an enabling regulatory environment need to be present to enable decisions to repurpose or develop large-scale underground hydrogen storage. Collaboration between supply, demand, infrastructure operators, and regulators will be key. Integrated infrastructure planning including hydrogen storage is necessary for a cost-efficient and timely energy transition in Europe."