Gigafactories, certificates of origin … How France will produce its green hydrogen

It’s official: the hydrogen sector will soon have several gigafactories. At least two by 2030, according to Emmanuel Macron, who presented Tuesday, October 12 a five-year investment plan in several promising sectors. But what kind of installation is it? “A little teaching is undoubtedly necessary”, recognizes Luc Poyer, chairman of the board of directors and general manager of McPhy, who has rightly chosen to set up a mega-factory in Belfort. Abroad, when we mention the term gigafactory, we immediately think of a large-scale hydrogen production unit supplied by thousands of wind turbines or several hundred hectares of photovoltaic panels, at the image of major projects under development in Kazakhstan Where in Australia.

But this is not the path chosen by France. Certainly, it is expected that in Guyana, photovoltaic fields will supply a hydrogen production site within a few years, making it possible to supply the region of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni with clean energy, thus avoiding the need for polluting thermal power stations (CEOG project). But in metropolitan France, the gigafactories mentioned by Emmanuel Macron will only be used to produce chain electrolysers. These installations, which break down water molecules with the help of an electric current, in order to recover hydrogen, will most of the time be connected to the national electricity grid, and not directly to wind turbines or panels. photovoltaic. They will primarily be used to decarbonise industry – which uses a lot of gray hydrogen or fossil fuels – and, to a lesser extent, mobility.

Does this mean that French hydrogen will be mainly of nuclear origin? No, remind several experts. “We could even arrive at a 50/50 equilibrium situation”, thinks Dominique Vignon, former president of Framatome and member of the Academy of technologies. There is indeed a frequent confusion, which consists in believing that renewable energies are necessarily sources of energy consumed locally. “In fact, when they are in surplus, they are transferred to the high voltage network, recalls the expert. Thus, today, around 30% of renewable energies are not consumed locally. This figure will increase in the coming years with in particular the development of offshore wind. In the United Kingdom, for example, there is already an offshore park whose output is equivalent to that of several nuclear power plants. All this energy cannot be consumed entirely locally “, specifies Dominique Vignon. It can therefore, in theory, supply electrolysers indirectly, via the national network.

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Certificates to prove the use of ENRs

How to be sure? Thanks to certificates of origin. The system already exists for electricity, since it makes it possible to ask suppliers for a document mentioning the precise ENR content. Of course, a supervisory authority would have to ensure that there is no fraud or that an actor does not sell the same carbon-free electricity twice. But this method, whose outlines have yet to be clarified, should allow France to integrate hydrogen into its energy mix, experts believe.

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“There will surely be a debate on the concomitance: should the certificates be obtained over the year, or over the month? We will certainly go towards instantaneity, but it is very complicated to implement”, recognizes Philippe. Boucly, president of France hydrogen. “What the industry lacks is the completion of the regulatory framework,” confirms Luc Poyer who is worried, at the same time, about possible bottlenecks: currently, out of the 86 jobs listed in the hydrogen, 17 are already in tension (welders, engineers, technicians commissioning stations …). A situation that is likely to worsen. “Currently, France has only 3 megawatts of electrolysis specifically intended to produce hydrogen. However, the national objective is to reach 6,500 megawatts by 2030”, points out Philippe Boucly. For the industry, this amounts to multiplying its capacities by … 2000! To achieve this, the gigafactory projects already announced, such as that of McPhy or of its Belgian competitor John Cockerill, will not be too many.


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David Baverez is an investor, based in Hong Kong since 2011. He is the author of By David Baverez

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