The European Union enters the final stage of tense talks over how to treat hydrogen produced using nuclear power on Wednesday, in an effort to end a dispute that threatens to thwart a deal on more ambitious renewable energy goals.
Negotiators from EU countries and the European Parliament are meeting to reach a deal on how fast to expand renewable energy sources this decade – a central pillar of the 27-member bloc’s efforts to fight climate change.
One of the key goals in the renewable energy policy is for every EU country to use a certain amount of renewable fuels, such as hydrogen, as an energy source in industry by 2030.
Because low-carbon hydrogen requires electricity to be made in the first place, the EU battle now is over what energy sources should be allowed for its production, if it is to be counted towards the renewable energy targets.
Hours before the final negotiations between EU governments and the European Parliament begin, EU countries are still at odds over whether to recognise hydrogen produced from nuclear power under the targets.
EU officials said they expect a long night, with some doubtful a deal will be reached.
France, backed by at least eight other EU countries, including Poland and Hungary, is leading a push for “low-carbon hydrogen”, made using nuclear power, to count towards the renewable goals.
Nuclear energy does not produce planet-heating CO2 emissions and those countries say the EU should better support its contribution to meeting climate goals.
But at least nine other EU countries, including Germany, Spain and Austria, disagree. They say the EU targets should solely focus on renewable sources like wind and solar to drive the massive expansion of these energy sources needed for Europe to end its reliance on Russian gas and cut CO2.
The renewable energy law reflects a broader dispute among countries over whether EU policies should actively encourage nuclear energy with subsidies and incentives – or restrict those privileges to other green technologies like wind and solar.
EU countries’ ambassadors failed to agree on Wednesday to a compromise drafted by Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency – leaving Sweden to represent EU countries in the final talks without a clear negotiating position on the issue.
The proposal, seen by Reuters, offered countries a reduced target to use renewable hydrogen in 2030, if 30 per cent or less of their total hydrogen use is fossil fuel-based hydrogen.
That could benefit countries where large shares of nuclear-based hydrogen have helped push fossil-based hydrogen out of the mix. EU officials said some countries opposed any reopening of the targets to nuclear-based fuels while others wanted a deeper reduction than the proposed 30 per cent.
The EU renewable energy policy contains a raft of other rules to help countries shift away from fossil fuels.
Negotiators will try to agree binding targets for how much of the EU’s total energy must come from renewable sources by 2030 – with 40 per cent and 45 per cent among the options being considered.
Other parts of the deal may tighten the EU’s rules on whether wood-burning “biomass” energy can be classed as renewable and count towards green goals.