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Green Canadian hydrogen not an immediate solution to Germany’s energy worries

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OTTAWA — Some energy experts warn a deal to sell Canadian hydrogen to Germany will serve as only a small, far-off and expensive part of the solution to Europe’s energy crisis.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are set to sign a hydrogen agreement in Stephenville, N.L. next week, during Scholz’s official visit to Canada.

A government official speaking on the condition they not be identified confirmed there will be a hydrogen accord signed that is the culmination of months of talks between the two countries.

Stephenville, a port town an hour south of Corner Brook on Newfoundland’s west shore, is the planned home for a zero-emission energy plant where wind power will be used to produce hydrogen and ammonia for export.

The deal between Canada and Germany is expected to make fuel-hungry Germany the first big customer for a first-of-its-kind project in Canada.

Germany was already looking to hydrogen as an energy solution in its climate plan before Russia invaded Ukraine last February. But since that invasion, as Russia attempts to push back against punishing economic sanctions, it has repeatedly threatened Germany’s energy supply.

Germany typically gets about half of its natural gas from Russia and is looking for both short and long-term solutions to wean itself from Russian exports.

Proponents say the hydrogen deal comes at a pivotal time for Canada’s green hydrogen industry, which is still in its infancy.

But some experts also say the fledgling product carries a big price tag and won’t be able to help Germany in the near term. Canada doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to produce large quantities of green hydrogen, or export it great distances.

“The key is you need a lot of associated infrastructure to be built before we can do a large scale export of hydrogen into other countries,” said Amit Kumar, the industrial research chair of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

In order to be shipped, the hydrogen would likely need to be cooled into a liquid, loaded into a specially adapted pipeline or tanker, and warmed again when it reached its destination.

The process and infrastructure is expensive, and so is production.

Most hydrogen production globally comes from converting natural gas to hydrogen and carbon dioxide. If the latter is emitted into the atmosphere, the hydrogen is referred to as “grey.” In Canada, the goal is to capture those emissions with carbon capture and storage, which would make the hydrogen “blue.”

Canada has to date been talking up plans to help Germany with new natural gas projects in Atlantic Canada that could one day be converted to blue hydrogen facilities.

But Germany is looking mainly for “green hydrogen,” which is made through splitting water molecules using renewable energy like wind or solar power. That comes at a much higher price.

“You’re looking at anywhere between three to four fold increase in costs,” said Kumar, a faculty of engineering professor at University of Alberta, who was consulted on the drafting of Alberta’s hydrogen strategy.

He said the technology needs to improve and more investment needs to be made before the cost is even relatively comparable with it’s natural-gas derived alternative.

The company behind the Newfoundland project, World Energy GH2, said the first phase of its Newfoundland project should see up to 164 onshore wind turbines built to power a hydrogen production facility. Long-term plans call for tripling the size of the project.

In its proposal, World Energy GH2 said it is on the cutting edge of a new, green industry.

Construction on the first wind farm is supposed to begin next year. That means hydrogen production is still far off, said Paul Martin, chemical engineer and co-founder of the Hydrogen Science Coalition.

“It’ll take years and years and years,” he said. “And then you’ve got the infrastructure problem.”

Martin says the infrastructure costs of producing and transporting green hydrogen don’t add up.

“Honestly looking at it the green hydrogen pitch in Canada for export, it’s disingenuous,” he said.

That’s partially why Canada’s hydrogen strategy involves moving toward “blue hydrogen” before eventually converting to green, Kumar said.

Germany’s strategy, however, clearly favours green hydrogen while the role of blue hydrogen is uncertain, an analysis by Centre for Strategic and International Studies fellow Isabelle Huber shows.

Trudeau and Scholz, who became Germany’s chancellor in December, first discussed hydrogen and Canadian energy exports when Trudeau visited Berlin in March.

At the G7 leaders’ summit in the Bavarian Alps in June, Trudeau spoke at length with other world leaders about how Canada could offer alternatives to nations dependent on Russian oil and gas.

At a press conference at the conclusion of the summit, Trudeau suggested infrastructure used to carry liquefied natural gas could be adapted to carry hydrogen, as one example of how Canada could help.

“We’re also looking medium term at expanding some infrastructure,” Trudeau said, “but in a way that hits that medium-term and long-term goal of accelerating transition — not just off Russian oil and gas — but off of our own dependence on fossil fuels.”

Canadian hydrogen might be just one piece of Germany’s plan to transition off of German gas in a very difficult situation, said Sara Hastings-Simon, who directs the masters of science in sustainable energy development at the University of Calgary.

“It’s not the be all end all, it’s neither going to fix it completely or be the single answer,” she said in an interview.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2022.

— With files from Mia Rabson

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

AIMCo CEO rejects fossil fuel divestment as investment strategy

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CALGARY — The CEO of the Alberta Investment Management Corp. (AIMCo) says divesting from fossil fuels is the opposite approach pension funds should be taking if they want to help solve the climate crisis.

Evan Siddall says AIMCo wants to be a leader in financing the transition to a low-carbon economy, but it won’t do that by divesting from fossil fuels as some global pension funds have done.

Instead, Siddall says AIMCo will be exploring opportunities to invest in oil and gas companies and other heavy industrial emitters.

He says heavy emitting companies are developing plans to lower, though not eliminate, their greenhouse gas footprints and will need capital to implement those plans.

Siddall says investing in the oil and gas sector’s decarbonization efforts will help Canada achieve its climate targets and generate strong returns for investors.

AIMCo is one of Canada’s largest institutional investment managers, responsible for the investments of pension, endowment and government funds in Alberta. As of Dec. 31, 2021, it had $168.3 billion of assets under management.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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Economy

Thousands rally in Belgium to protest high energy prices

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Thousands of people gathered on Wednesday in the Belgian capital Brussels for “a national day of action” to protest against skyrocketing electricity, natural gas and food prices and draw attention to the sharp hike in the cost of living.

Trade unions and city police said that around 10,000 took part. People from across the country gathered, marching behind banners reading “Life is much too expensive, we want solutions now,” and “Everything is going up except our wages,” or carrying placards marked “Freeze prices, not people.” City traffic and public transportation was disrupted.

A Belgian media poll this week showed that 64% of people questioned are concerned that they might not be able to afford their electricity and gas bills, which have more than doubled over the last year, while 80% of respondents said they are already trying to make energy and water savings.

“When we go grocery shopping, what’s in the cart costs now 20, 30 euros (dollars) more, or even more depending on the shop you go to. We are reaching a point where our wallets can’t keep up,” said Pascal Kraeso, a protester from Brussels.

Last month, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo warned that “the next five to 10 winters will be difficult” because of high electricity and natural gas prices fueled by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The European Union’s 27 member countries have agreed to cut gas usage by 15% on average this winter, and aim in particular to reduce demand during peak hours. EU energy ministers are meeting next week to discuss the crisis.

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