According to analysts, an underwater pipeline connecting the ports of Barcelona and Marseille is unlikely to help alleviate the European energy crisis in the short term. Spain and France agree that it may not be operational until 2030.
The joint project between Spain, Portugal and France agreed last month called BarMar replaced MidCat, the gas pipeline that would cross the Pyrenees from Spain to France.
Despite Spanish claims that MidCat could be ready by 2023, France vetoed it over political opposition to environmental damage caused by the planned pipeline through the southwest of the country.
BarMar is primarily used to pump green hydrogen and other renewable gases into the European grid.
Green hydrogen is produced by passing an electrical current through water to split it between hydrogen and oxygen in a process known as electrolysis.
It is considered green because the electricity comes from renewable energy sources that do not cause harmful emissions.
Hydrogen only emits harmless water vapor, while fossil fuels emit harmful greenhouse gases when burned.
Shipping company Maersk plans to produce up to 2 million tons of e-methanol per year in Spain by 2030 in order to supply its freighter fleet and reduce its carbon footprint. The 10 billion euro project is expected to include investments from Spain and from EU recovery funds.
France, Spain and Portugal also hope that the pipeline would allow some natural gas to be transported to alleviate Europe’s supply problems due to the Russian war in Ukraine.
“This is a project that needs to be extremely secure… We estimate it would take us around four to five years,” Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said at a briefing in Madrid last month.
France’s energy minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher agreed and confirmed that the project would not go into operation until 2030.
“It will take longer (than MidCat), the deadline is 2030, and it has one goal: to be able to essentially transport hydrogen rather than develop a gas infrastructure that could later be converted into hydrogen,” she told El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, last month.
December deadline has been set for the Spanish, French and Portuguese companies that will build the pipeline to submit a detailed plan.
Further details are expected to be announced at a conference with the three countries on December 9.
Jorge Sanz, President of the Expert Commission on Energy Transition, questioned the need for a pipeline between Barcelona and Marseille.
“To transport gas from Barcelona to Marseille, it is not necessary to build a pipeline between Barcelona and Marseille. (They can) divert the ships (which carry gas) so that they don’t unload it in Barcelona, but do it straight to Marseille,” Sanz told Cnnbreakingnews.net.
He said that if France doesn’t adapt its gas pipeline infrastructure to transport green hydrogen, the pipeline between Barcelona and Marseille would serve no purpose.
“France has no plans to make this investment as green hydrogen will have a smaller number of consumers as its use is limited and investments in transport networks will be difficult to attract,” added Sanz.
Spain accounted for 20% of the production of global green hydrogen projects in the first quarter of 2022, making it the second largest producer after the USA, according to a report by consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.
The war in Ukraine has forced Europe to search for sources of energy other than Russian gas.
Although the sector is still in its infancy, Spain is committed to green hydrogen as it has renewable energy infrastructure and plenty of solar, wind, hydroelectric and space.
Space is crucial, as solar energy systems or wind turbines often require large areas of land.
Germany is a large producer of solar energy, but 1.4 times smaller than Spain and, with 84 million inhabitants, has far less space for huge solar panel fields. In comparison, Spain has 47 million inhabitants and large parts of the country are empty.
Spain has another advantage over other European countries: It has a large natural gas network and terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG), which can be used to transport green hydrogen.
At present, the disadvantage of green hydrogen is the high cost of generating gas, which means that natural gas is cheaper.
It was used to partially supply local buses in Barcelona and steel and fertilizer plants with electricity.
Fernando Garcia, a London-based supply analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said the BARMAR route would “clearly” not solve Europe’s short-term supply problems.
“I don’t know if (BarMar) will be finished in 2030, but it clearly won’t be 2023 or 2024, which means it won’t have any effect on the current crisis,” he told CNNBreakingNews.net.
Garcia said the effects of green hydrogen are currently limited in the short and medium term.
“Green hydrogen is currently an expensive technology that is at an early stage in Europe,” he added.