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Romania’s clean hydrogen future – interview with Dan Dragos Dragan, State Secretary, Ministry of Energy

On its path to decarbonised future and obligations under European Green Deal, Romania is looking at low carbon hydrogen market development as effective means to emissions reduction from its energy sector. The country’s authorities have announced the release of a national hydrogen strategy sometime in 2022. The document which should be developed based on the involvement of public and private stakeholders, according to energy experts, is expected to provide comprehensive decisions on the uses of hydrogen and help avoid the proliferation of uncoordinated, poorly designed hydrogen initiatives.

The Bucharest-based energy think-tank Energy Policy Group informs that the sectors that hold the most promising potential for hydrogen use in Romania include steel, ammonia, fertilisers, refineries and high-value chemicals industries, as well as the transport sector, namely, long-haul aviation, maritime shipping, heavy-duty vehicles, railway and district heating systems. While hydrogen is viewed as a silver bullet towards Romania’s decarbonised future, EPG notes that its real impact will depend on the country’s economic strategy and costs of technology.

CEENERGYNEWS spoke with the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Energy of Romania, Dan Dragos Dragan regarding the future of clean hydrogen technology in the country.

Mr Dragan tells CEENERGYNEWS that at present, Romania’s main aim is to produce green hydrogen in order to decarbonise the country’s hard-to-electrify sectors.

“Hydrogen has the potential to address many hard-to-abate sectors, it can be used as raw material in several industries, mostly in the petrochemical and chemical industries, and to use it as a grid-balancing element, for the transport of energy or as an energy storage medium.”

At the same time, Romania has sectors and industries that already use hydrogen and can consume low-carbon hydrogen as a substitute fuel. In addition, blending with current emissions-heavy energy sources such as gas is possible.

There are “[…]new investments planned for the gas grid which will be ready to use at least 20 per cent (by volume) hydrogen by 2026 and 100 per cent by 2030. Exports and potential pilot projects are also considered”, Mr Dragan says.

In parallel, to develop low-carbon hydrogen technology and market, Romania is building partnerships with various stakeholders as well.

“The most significant partnerships for our country are with equipment manufacturers and utility operators. They can provide many insights on what we need to adapt in our country from both a technical and legislative point of view, especially regarding technical norms for the gas grid”, Mr Dragan notes, adding that “these need to be adapted to allow the coupling of electrolysers and the usage of existing and future gas infrastructure to transport and distribute hydrogen and other green gases.”

“Also, we are looking into what other countries have already done in this field, focusing on pilot projects and adaptations of primary and secondary legislation and technical norms,” he adds.

Romania is a nuclear power-producing Member State of the EU, meaning that the country could consider hydrogen production from nuclear power too. However, the problem is that despite its near-zero GHG emissions promises, pink hydrogen is a costly alternative which makes it non-viable in comparison to hydrogen produced from renewables.

Nevertheless, Mr Dragan suggests that pink hydrogen is a feasible solution for Romania.

“[…] Especially in the context of the doubling of the Cernavodă Nuclear Power Plant which is expected to be ready in 2030. Still, the main purpose of nuclear power plants is to cover the baseload,” he says.

“The feasibility of hydrogen projects powered by nuclear power plants depends on how the electricity consumption will evolve. In the context of the expanded nuclear power plant and a higher share of RES, hydrogen as an energy vector would help balance the system during moments of both high and low production.”

Green hydrogen, on the other hand, is on a path to significant cost reductions which is why it can become competitive with fossil-based hydrogen by 2030, argues EPG. In its recent study, the think-tank proposes that for this very reason, hydrogen derived from renewable energy sources should be the focus of the Romanian national hydrogen strategy.

Dan Dragos Dragan
Dan Dragos Dragan. Courtesy of the Ministry.

When comparing green hydrogen produced from a mix of hydro, solar and wind power with nuclear variety, Mr Dragan suggests that each one comes with a catch in Romania.

“Considering the current capacity factor of photovoltaic and wind power plants, [they would need to] give power also to the grid in order to obtain an economic capacity factor for the electrolysers. If the electricity would come from a nuclear power plant, this would ensure a constant supply, but at a higher energy cost. These are the two main aspects that have to be considered by investors.”

Despite the fact that no major impediment exists for the development of low-carbon hydrogen in Romania from a technical point of view, there are still some barriers, according to Mr Dragan.

“Electrolyser technologies are already mature in Romania’s chemical industry. Regarding gas turbines running on hydrogen mixed with natural gas, these technologies are also somewhat mature but most of them can only function with a maximum amount of 50 per cent hydrogen in the gas mix. But we are sure that running on 100 per cent hydrogen could be achieved in a relatively short amount of time”.

The real barrier for him lies with using hydrogen in households where all existing appliances would need to be replaced. The current gas infrastructure is another challenge.

“The main problem comes from inserting hydrogen into the gas grid,” he concludes. “This is a barrier both from a technical and regulatory point of view. The Romanian gas TSO, Transgaz, is studying this issue from a technical point of view. When the experiments with different hydrogen proportions in the existing gas grid and on a grid built with dedicated materials will be ready, regulation in this field will be adapted to the injection of hydrogen and potentially of other green gases.”

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