Hydrogen in France

1. CURRENT STATE OF HYDROGEN PROJECTS IN FRANCE

In France, Law No 2015-992 of 17 August 2015 relating to the Energy Transition for a Green Growth provided in its Article 121 that the Government shall establish a "development plan for the storage of renewable energies using decarbonated hydrogen" aiming, firstly, at encouraging hydrogen mobility through the development of fuel cells and hydrogen distribution infrastructures, and secondly, at adapting regulations to allow the power-to-gas business.

On 1 June 2018, the Minister for Energy presented the hydrogen plan, which has three main objectives:

  • “greening” hydrogen for industrial use;
  • using hydrogen for mobility to complement the battery sector; and
  • stabilising energy networks.

Law No 2019-1147 of 8 November 2019 on Energy and Climate added the objectives of a low carbon hydrogen rate of 10% by 2023, and of between 20 and 40% by 2030. 1 Article L. 100-4, I, indent 10°, of the Energy Code The Parliament also empowered the Government to take measures through law-decrees in order to "define the terminology of the different types of hydrogen according to the energy source used for its production", "to allow the production, transport, storage and traceability of hydrogen", and "to define a support framework applicable to low-carbon hydrogen". 2 Article 52 of the Energy and Climate law  Finally, the law instituted a system of guarantees of origin for hydrogen of renewable origin. 3 Article L. 447-1 of the Energy Code The issuance of the law-decrees provided for by the Energy and Climate Law have been postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis. The Minister in charge of Energy specified in April 2020 that the texts should be published soon. 

In addition, the Multiannual Energy Program (the “PPE”), published on 23 April 2020, for the periods 2019-2023 and 2024-2028, provides for an increase in financial support for the hydrogen sector. The hydrogen plan referred to above is set out in the PPE with the following measures:

  • Set up support for the development of decarbonated hydrogen to the price of 50 M per year and launch calls for projects on mobility and hydrogen production using electrolysers; 
  • Set up a traceability system for decarbonated hydrogen in 2020;
  • Extend the measure of additional depreciation on the purchase of hydrogen vehicles at least under the same conditions as for CNG (heavy goods vehicles > 3.5 t); 
  • Mobilise financial institutions (private and public funding including CDC, BPI) 4 CDC and BPI are State-owned financial entities  and standardise co-financing models for ecosystem deployment projects that pool different uses (mobility, industry, etc.) at the local level in the territories; 
  • Discuss with all stakeholders concerned by the simplification and harmonisation of authorisation and approval procedures for boats and associated hydrogen refuelling solutions; 
  • Pursue support for innovation, in particular to accompany industrialisation and the transition to the French scale".

Energy & Industry

GRTgaz, a subsidiary of ENGIE and the main gas TSO, has set up the “Jupiter 1000” project to demonstrate the feasibility of the power-to-gas process on an industrial scale. The project will also test the injection of hydrogen and synthetic methane into its transmission network through a 1 MW hydrogen production facility, a methanation unit to convert the hydrogen produced into synthetic gas, and an industrial CO² capture unit for methanation. This project was approved by the French energy regulator (the "CRE") 5 https://www.jupiter1000.eu/  in 2015. 6 https://www.cre.fr/Documents/Deliberations/Approbation/programme-investissements-2015-grtgaz  

GRTgaz has announced in May 2020 that it is initiating another project in collaboration with CREOS: the MosaHYc project. These two companies will create a hydrogen network linking Germany and France. The purpose of this agreement between the two gas transmission system operators is to make a 70 km hydrogen transport infrastructure accessible, by adopting existing gas infrastructures. 7 https://www.h2-mobile.fr/actus/mosahyc-grtgaz-creos-lancent-reseau-europeen-transport-hydrogene/

Hydrogène de France and Teréga will develop a HyGéo pilot project to define solutions for significant hydrogen energy storage. 8 https://www2.terega.fr/fileadmin/presse/CP_FR/2020/CP-Terega-Hygeo.pdf This project aims to study the underground storage of energy using hydrogen obtained by electrolysis of water. This non-polluting hydrogen will be stored in an abandoned geological cavity previously used for hydrocarbon storage. Using fuel cells technology, the stored hydrogen will then be used to produce electricity back. 

Transportation

Hydrogen is a technology competing with electric batteries and other fuels. Its cost is still very high compared to its competitors. This challenge is the reason why regions are heavily investing in hydrogen projects. For example, the Auvergne Rhône Alpes region has invested in a project to build 14 hydrogen recharging stations. This is the "Zero Emission Valley" project. The Pays-de-la-Loire region recently set aside a budget of €100 million to invest in hydrogen projects until 2030. 

In order to encourage investment, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency ("ADEME") is responsible for encouraging "the development of clean technologies and savings". 9 Article L. 131-3, 5° of the Environmental Code  It thus encourages the development of hydrogen and fuel cells by issuing tenders for projects, which is successful would qualify for a State subsidy. The tenders to date have included: 10 smartgrids-cre.fr

  • Call for projects "Ecosystems of hydrogen mobility", 3 May 2019;
  • Call for projects "Support for the emergence of hydrogen mobility in the railway sector", 21 January 2020;
  • Call for projects "Innovative projects of European or national scope on the design, production and use of hydrogen systems", 23 January 2020.

2. MARKET PROSPECTS FOR HYDROGEN

The potential of hydrogen to boost the economy is recognised in France. Both the State and local authorities have expressed an interest in developing this new technology. The use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel for mobility and as an energy storage technology are currently one of the main areas of research and development in France.

To date, hydrogen has developed further for mobility. The injection of hydrogen into networks is however still at the research and development stage. More generally, hydrogen technology is still in the early stage of development in France.

There have also been a number of mergers and acquisitions in the sector. For example, EDF created last year a subsidiary dedicated to industry and mobility, Hynamics, and took a minority stake in the French company McPhy, a designer and manufacturer of hydrogen equipment. Another example: Michelin and Faurecia took the joint and equal control of Symbio, a fuel cell manufacturer created in 2010, whose plant near Lyon is due to open in November. 

Currently, the projects are mainly financed by public bodies. However, it is likely that investors and banks will participate in the near future. 11 French industrialists in the starting blocks, Les Echos, 9 July 2020

Finally, several gas system operators among which GRTgaz, which operates in nine EU Member States, proposed a European "hydrogen backbone”. GRTgaz and Téréga participated in the project. The work carried out by these TSOs has shown that existing gas networks can be adapted to transport hydrogen at an affordable cost. The emergence of a hydrogen network in the mid-2020s to reach by 2030 a first set (totalling 6,800 km) of pipeline is considered possible. If achieved it will link the different European hydrogen valleys. For 2040, a 23,000 km hydrogen network is envisaged, ie the European "hydrogen backbone", consisting of 75% of existing converted natural gas pipelines supplemented by 25% of new hydrogen pipelines. 12 http://www.grtgaz.com/fileadmin/medias/communiques/2020/fr/20200715-European-Hydrogen-Backbone-Report.pdf

3. CHALLENGES FACING HYDROGEN PROJECT IN FRANCE

Legal framework

To date, the regulations regarding use of hydrogen in the mobility sector are more developed than for the injection of hydrogen into gas networks. 

The major stake is the development of projects by the network operators regulated by the Energy Regulator, CRE, since these operators basically depend upon the grid tariffs.

Financial support and incentives

The Government intends to include support measures for hydrogen projects in the French economic recovery plan to be presented in Autumn 2020. The Minister for Economy has indicated a possible increase of investment up to several billion euros in hydrogen. France's previous hydrogen strategy, presented in 2018, limited investment to €100 million. 

The Government has also introduced incentives to encourage the uptake of new modes of transportation such as hydrogen powered vehicles. For example, employers can now offer a refund for commuting to and from work using hydrogen-powered vehicles. 13 https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000041858450&dateTexte=&categorieLien=id

Research and education:

Lhyfe has its joined forces with CEA Tech, the European consortium marine energy alliance, and the IRD in three R&D partnerships dedicated to the deployment at sea of green hydrogen production by electrolysis using electricity produced by offshore wind turbines. 14 https://www.industrie-techno.com/article/lhyfe-avance-vers-un-hydrogene-vert-produit-en-mer-avec-trois-partenariats-r-d.61076  

Network operators such as GRTgaz and GRDF, the main French gas DSOs, are also very active in hydrogen research and development, in particular by participating in pilot projects. 

4. REGULATION OF HYDROGEN

Specific legislation/regulation

There is no specific law on hydrogen in France at present. Hydrogen is mentioned in general laws on energy and mobility. For example, the Mobility Orientation Law No 2019-1428 of 24 December 2019 allows cities to create hydrogen refuelling infrastructures for vehicles and boats. For the time being, these small pieces of legislation mainly concerns hydrogen mobility.

Policy and Governmental programmes

The Government presented its Hydrogen Plan, “National strategy for the development of carbon-free hydrogen in France” in September 2020, partly influenced by the global COVID-19 “Recovery Plan”. This is discussed in more detail, below.

Primary legislation

There is no dedicated Law about hydrogen in the French legal framework. Thus, the stakeholders have to the follow general rules arising from the France set of energy laws and regulations. 

However, the most recent laws on energy and mobility encourage the development of hydrogen, in particular by giving new competencies to municipalities in order to install hydrogen recharging stations on their territory. 

Generation

There are no specific regulations applicable to hydrogen producers. Production and recharging facilities are subject to regulations specific to classified facilities for the protection of environment (known under the French acronym “ICPE”).

Connection and distribution

According to the Energy Code, it is mandatory to conclude a contract for being connected to the public gas network either for a generation facility, or a consumption site, and the distribution network operator prior informs the user of the conditions relating to the connection of his installation. The activity of the DSOs is regulated and controlled by the regulator. GRDF, a subsidiary of ENGIE, is by far the main DSO.

Transportation

The Mobility Orientation Act of 24 December 2019 mainly provides a framework for refuelling stations for private vehicles, buses, and ships. 

Financing

Subsidies are awarded by a public body (ADEME) in response to tenders for projects. To date, the regulator has not launched yet any call for tenders to develop hydrogen projects; this option would allow operators to benefit from funding by the taxpayer. 

Permitting process

Hydrogen production and fuelling station construction projects are subject to the regulations for environmentally classified facilities (ICPE).

Secondary legislation and other legal documents

The Multiannual Energy Programme (PPE) determines the objectives for the development of hydrogen until 2028.

France's future hydrogen plan should make it possible to draw up a financing plan to develop hydrogen in the coming years.

Regulation of hazardous activities

The main laws here are: the Environmental Code (with inter alia the regulation on the environmentally classified installations, or ICPE), the General Code of Local Authorities (which for instance gives powers to local authorities to build and operate supply stations) and, more broadly, the Law on Energy Transition of 17 August 2015 and the Mobility Orientation Law of 24 December 2019.

Transport, import and export of hydrogen

To date, there are no specific regulations for the transport, import and export of hydrogen.

5. REGULATORY BODIES

As there are no specific provisions on hydrogen, the general provisions on the development and construction of renewable energy apply.

The Energy Regulator, CRE, controls the investments made by the network operators. For the time being, investments only concern experimental and research and development projects.

The Transport Regulator (the “ART”) has no jurisdiction over hydrogen projects: the CRE is the sole competent regulator

6. UPCOMING DEVELOPMENTS

On 8 September 2020, the French Government published its new Hydrogen Plan titled “National strategy for the development of carbon-free hydrogen in France”, which takes into account the global COVID-19 “Recovery Plan” aimed at progressively removing the consequences of national lockdowns.

The purpose of the Hydrogen Plan is to make France “the carbon-free leader for tomorrow”, according to the Minister for Economy. In order to do so, € 7.2 billion shall be invested in this sector to: first, decarbonise the industry through cost-effective water electrolysis, with long term targets, such as saving 6 m tonnes of CO2 by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050; second, support research and development, inter alia to make green hydrogen profitable; and, third, develop a “heavy mobility” using hydrogen as fuel (in trucks, trains, buses, planes) by utilising fuel cells.

Additionally, the Government hopes that this effort will directly create between 50,000 and 150,000 jobs.

The Hydrogen Plan includes measures, such as:

  • Install enough electrolysers to make a significant contribution to the decarbonisation of the economy with a production capacity of 6.5 GW carbon-free hydrogen through electrolysis;
  • Conversion of our land transport (passengers and goods) to hydrogen technologies, for example hydrogen-powered river shuttles and ships;
  • Promote the emergence of a French electrolysis sector;
  • Decarbonise industry by replacing carbonated hydrogen; and
  • Calls for large-scale regional projects, aimed at pooling uses, to accelerate the deployment of professional hydrogen mobility (e.g. call of tenders for a “Territorial hydrogen hub”).
Christophe Barthelemy
Christophe Barthelemy
Partner
Paris
Picture of Aurore-Emmanuelle Rubio
Aurore-Emmanuelle Rubio
Counsel
Paris
Marc Devedeix
Associate
Paris