France’s energy transition minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher has criticised the push for so-called “hydrogen-ready” combined heat and power plants, which will in fact run on fossil gas until clean H2 is available at low cost, news agency Bloomberg reports.

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“A strategy which consists in replacing the word ‘gas’ by ‘hydrogen-ready’ seems fragile to us,” Pannier-Runacher told a press conference on Monday.

Germany is currently planning to tender 15GW of hydrogen-ready gas power capacity, with the condition that these will have to start running on H2 by 2035.

Proponents of hydrogen-fired power argue that H2 can store wind and solar energy indefinitely, and balance out intermittency on the grid without increasing emissions.

However, critics argue that it will be extremely unlikely “hydrogen-ready” power plants will switch from gas to H2 on a cost basis in the near future. As such, this would effectively giving operators a licence to continue burning fossil fuels for power until they are mandated to use hydrogen at a much higher cost —which could end up passed onto the consumer.

And even if these power plants do eventually run on hydrogen, Pannier-Runnacher cited the relative energy inefficiency of H2 even compared to other dispatchable sources of heat and power, such as biogas and nuclear.

“There are uses for which hydrogen have a lot of value, and that’s where we want to focus,” she said, citing H2 for industrial consumption and as a fuel for heavy-duty vehicles — although she reportedly ruled out light-duty fuel-cell vehicles such as taxis as an effective use of hydrogen.

France has announced it will tender the first €700m ($766m) in subsidies towards hydrogen production in 2024, from its €4bn budget for investment and operating grants for the sector up to 2026.

The demand support mechanism will effectively work as a Carbon Contract for Difference covering the cost differential between renewable or nuclear H2 and grey hydrogen made from unabated natural gas.

However, these subsidies come with strings attached on end use, with blending into the gas grid and combustion for heat explicitly excluded.