MILAN (Reuters) - Italy could become a clean energy hub for Europe by importing hydrogen produced in North Africa from solar power at 10-15% less than it costs to produce locally, a study by consultancy The European House-Ambrosetti and Italian gas group Snam said on Saturday.
Presented at a conference in Cernobbio, the study said Italy is well-placed to benefit from hydrogen developments thanks to its location and extensive gas network.
"Italy can become the infrastructural bridge between Europe and the African continent, thus enabling greater hydrogen penetration in other European countries," it said. Hydrogen could account for 23% of Italian energy demand by 2050, cutting harmful climate emissions by 28% from current levels, the study said. The industry could generate revenues over 30 years worth up to 1.5 trillion euros and create up to 540,000 new jobs by 2050. Green hydrogen, produced using solar and wind power, is seen by many as a possible replacement for fossil fuels.
The European Commission is looking to scale up renewable hydrogen projects and deploy it in sectors where carbon emissions may otherwise remain high or where electrification is difficult. Hydrogen's promise as a fuel to help power vehicles and energy plants has long been a talking point but it is currently too expensive for widespread use. Proponents say infrastructure investment and more demand from transport, gas grids and industry can reduce costs. "In 2000, the price of hydrogen from renewables was 40 times higher than oil. Today we estimate that it will become competitive with some current fuels within five years," Snam CEO Marco Alvera told the conference.
Snam, Europe's biggest gas pipeline operator, has been experimenting with a 10% mix of hydrogen in its 33,000-kilometre natural gas network and has said 70% of its natural gas grid is already made up of "hydrogen ready" pipes.
(Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by James Drummond)