HNOs, operators for the transmission and storage of hydrogen in Europe

Renewable gases Descarbonisation
15 December 2022
  • Existing gas infrastructure and new infrastructure to be built for hydrogen transmission and storage will play a key role in the future European energy system integration

The REPowerEU plan has set out clear targets to achieve Europe’s energy independence and substitute natural gas from Russia, with a focus on diversifying energy sources. At the same time, it has raised hydrogen to a leading role in the energy transition process that is expected to be completed by 2050.

Renewable hydrogen has many advantages, the main one being that it is a 100% renewable energy carrier that allows decarbonisation even in sectors where electrification is not feasible.

It also allows the use of existing gas infrastructures, which is essential for progress in the energy transition at the lowest cost. According to REPowerEU, hydrogen-ready gas infrastructure, both for transmission and storage, will be the lever for integrating European markets.

New regulatory context

The European decarbonisation package, adopted in December 2021, sets out the conditions for the development of renewable gas transmission and storage infrastructure.

In this regard, it stipulates that operators of hydrogen networks must be unbundled and certified by regulators. It also requires the regulatory framework for hydrogen infrastructure to be defined by 2030. This is where the concept of the hydrogen network operator (HNO) first appeared.

Faced with the need to develop the market and meet the targets set by Europe for the coming decades, countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, which are firmly committed to hydrogen, are moving ahead of European regulation:

-          Germany: the first European Union country to approve a transitional regulation (until 2025) for pure hydrogen transmission networks. In the longer term, this regulation will need to be adjusted to reflect updates to the European Union gas directive. It provides for ownership unbundling of HNOs and facilitates the re-use of existing natural gas infrastructure.

-          Netherlands: there is currently no specific legislation defined for hydrogen projects, and the existing law governing gas supply is still in force. However, the Dutch government has assigned Gasunie, currently the Dutch transmission system operator (TSO), a temporary role as HNO of the hydrogen backbone infrastructure for the development of a network from existing gas infrastructure (with a view to also becoming the HNO of the regional and large-scale commercial network). The country is also working on a new law that will change the regulatory framework for gas, electricity and hydrogen, taking into account new European regulations.

-          Belgium: the country has published an update of its Hydrogen Strategy 2022, and is in the process of drafting a new law in anticipation of the European Union directive that will regulate the hydrogen market in Europe. It also has a proposal under consultation for a single HNO. As things stand today, the current TSO, Fluxys, is positioned to become the possible HNO for the country in the future.

Enagás, potential HNO

In Spain, Enagás has been certified as the country’s TSO since 2012. Under the current proposed European Union regulations, it is envisaged that the entire hydrogen infrastructure will be transferred to HNOs by 2030, and that TSOs such as Enagás will be able to play this role.

With more than 12,000 km of gas pipelines in Spain, Enagás has a robust infrastructure network that today is key to security of supply and which, with adaptations and the creation of new facilities, could play an essential role in the transmission and storage of renewable gases.

The roll-out of a renewable hydrogen market requires the development of infrastructures to connect supply with demand. And in accordance with European Union regulations, the new hydrogen backbone will build on the existing network, adapting existing pipelines and developing new infrastructure.

Creating a hydrogen backbone

According to the European Hydrogen Backbone initiative, involving 31 European TSOs, 60–75% of existing natural gas infrastructure can be reused for hydrogen. REPowerEU, the European plan to phase out dependence on Russia, foresees a market of 20 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2030, and envisages a backbone of supply corridors with natural gas infrastructure as a lever for European market integration, with the Iberian H2 Corridor among them.


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