Winds of Change

Germany’s largest green hydrogen plant is to be built on the windy west coast of Schleswig-Holstein. State development initiatives are driving structural change around Germany’s Energy Transition program, and companies will find plenty of investment opportunities and support funding.

June 2020

Germany’s northernmost state of Schleswig-­Holstein has had a rough ride over the past 10 years. Shipbuilding, one of the cornerstones of its economy, suffered heavy losses after this industry’s global crisis of 2008, while agriculture is also declining. Many jobs have disappeared and young people have moved away.

The city of Heide in the district of Dithmarschen was the first to address the demise, developing a region-wide concept with 11 other municipalities. The Heide Region Development Agency (EARH) was born, with a remit to promote projects relating to the Energy Transition, Germany’s sweeping, country-wide initiative to shift the energy supply from fossil fuels and nuclear power to low-carbon and renewable energy sources, which will run until 2050. Wind is a plentiful source of power here – wind energy accounted for 95 percent of the state’s electricity consumption in 2016 alone. There are 850 wind turbines in the district of Dithmarschen, for example. Any business which settles in Schleswig-Holstein in order to develop energy storage facilities will be welcomed with open arms, especially because a large amount of the excess power is wasted.

A wind turbine on the approach to the Heide Refinery. The crude oil processor is one of the main partners in the “West Coast 100” real-world laboratory initiative to produce “green hydrogen” from wind energy instead of from fossil fuels. © Johannes Arlt/laif

Green hydrogen from wind power

In response to the problem, the Heide Region Development Agency has launched the “West Coast 100” ­real-world laboratory initiative, among other projects. Here, “green hydrogen” is produced from wind energy in a test environment. The hydrogen will then be fed into gas grids and used to produce climate-friendly fuel for aircraft. The waste heat will be used to supply an industrial plant and power a local community. The use of renewables in district heating networks is in high demand in the region. Any company initiating this kind of project can apply for subsidies of up to EUR 1 million from the state’s development bank.

Crude oil refinery gets on board

The crude oil processor Heide Refinery is one of the initiative’s main partners. “We want to find a substitute for the production of hydrogen from fossil fuels,” explains managing director Jürgen Wollschläger. He has high hopes for the technology which converts wind power into hydrogen gas that, crucially, is easy to transport. “In the future, the project could have an impact not only in the Heide region, but worldwide.” The project has already attracted international stakeholders, such as the Danish energy group Ørsted.

The projects are already driving regional structural change: “We expect several thousand direct and indirect jobs in the long term,” says Dirk Burmeister, CEO of the Heide Region Development Agency. The unemployment rate in Dithmarschen has fallen to around 5 percent and the population is growing.

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