In early February, France and eight other EU states began lobbying the European Commission (EC) to allow hydrogen derived from nuclear energy to be counted as renewable H2.

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“Renewable-only objectives would indeed limit the speed of the development of our hydrogen economy,” wrote France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and Hungary in a letter to the EC.

Germany and six other EU countries are now pushing back against those efforts, arguing that allowing nuclear hydrogen to count towards the EU’s green hydrogen targets — and therefore make it eligible for forthcoming subsidies — would slow down the much-needed deployment of renewable energy.

“Taking into account low-carbon hydrogen and low-carbon fuels in the 2030 renewable energy sources targets would decrease the ambition and slow down renewables deployment,” the countries wrote in a letter to EU climate chief Frans Timmermans and energy commissioner Kadri Simson, which was signed by Germany, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Denmark, Ireland and Luxembourg.

Doing so would also “jeopardise the achievement of the climate targets, including the Paris Agreement”, they added.

The EU aims to produce ten million tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2030, while importing a further ten million tonnes from outside the bloc.

And while the EC finally unveiled its long-awaited Delegated Act to define renewable hydrogen last month, the 27 EU states still need to sign off on it.

The planned EU subsidies for green H2 — which are needed to kick-start large-scale production — cannot begin until that definition has been agreed. And it may be difficult for all 27 nations to agree, given the dispute over nuclear H2, thus raising the possibility that the argument could further delay the green hydrogen build-out.

The European Parliament, which must also agree to the renewable hydrogen definitions, has already delayed a decision on the Delegated Act by two months to allow further scrutiny, meaning it will now not come into force until June at the earliest.

The EC has sought to diffuse the nuclear H2 row by promising separate rulings and definitions of “low-carbon hydrogen” by the end of next year.

“Under the Commission's proposal, a methodology for assessing greenhouse gas emissions savings from low carbon [hydrogen-based] fuels will be set out in delegated legislation by 31 December 2024,” said a European Commission note.

But it remains to be seen if this will be enough to persuade France and friends from discontinuing their push for nuclear hydrogen to be classed as renewable.

The EC has announced plans to launch an €800m ($850m) pilot auction this autumn that will allow domestic green hydrogen producers to bid for a ten-year “fixed premium” — essentially a top-up subsidy in €/kg — on the H2 they produce.

The final workshop on the design for the auction with stakeholders including member states, banks, academics, utilities and producers is now due in May, with the rules expected to be published in the summer.