Holger Kreetz, as COO Asset Management at Uniper you currently play a key role in Germany’s future energy supply. What exactly does your job involve?
I am responsible for expanding Uniper’s European power generation fleet and for business development and projects, with the exception of renewable energies. Therefore, my team is also planning and managing the construction of the new LNG terminal in Wilhelmshaven. The war in Ukraine has made it obvious to all of us that Germany needs to broaden the base of its gas supply and diversify it considerably. We will not be able to achieve this without importing liquefied gas. This makes it all the more important to build the necessary infrastructure as quickly as possible.
What progress has already been made with the work on the new LNG terminal in Wilhelmshaven?
At the beginning of May, Niedersachsen Ports, the port operator, began the process of pile driving. This laid the foundations for the new terminal and involved driving steel piles into the sea bed. At a later date, floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs) for liquefied natural gas will be anchored there and this is where the LNG tankers that transport the liquefied natural gas to Germany will moor. The pile driving was a highly important step for us, because it meant that the first stage of the building process could begin after a very short preparation period.
What is the next step?
Our partner Open Grid Europe (OGE) is currently laying a 28-kilometer gas pipeline from the LNG terminal to a gas hub in the town of Etzel in Lower Saxony. Etzel is one of the main natural gas hubs in Germany which distributes gas throughout the country. If everything goes smoothly, the new pipeline could be completed by the end of this year.
When will the first liquefied natural gas arrive in Germany?
We expect the initial shipments of gas to arrive during the first quarter of 2023. But that is based on the assumption that everything goes quickly and smoothly, including the approval processes and the construction of the new infrastructure. As soon as the new terminal in Wilhelmshaven is fully operational, we can start importing up to 7.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas every year. To put this in perspective, last year we imported around 55 billion cubic meters from Russia.
This is a demanding project in many respects. What are the main challenges that you are facing?
The tight schedule is definitely the biggest challenge. To speed everything up, we are doing as many things as possible in parallel, for example the approvals. Of course, we have to comply with all the relevant legislation. But we also need to accelerate the purchasing processes. The suppliers of pipes, piles, and pumps are either delivering to us from their existing stocks or bringing forward the production of the components we need. It’s a question of full steam ahead in every area. However, we are still struggling in some respects with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, disruption in the supply chains remains a problem. We have to take this into consideration in our plans.
Critics are saying that the new fossil fuel infrastructure is being built in Wilhelmshaven, despite the fact that Germany is planning to switch over to renewable energies. What is your response to this?
Uniper supports the energy transition. But in the short term, the war in Ukraine has made security of supply and independence from Russia the focus of all the political considerations. This does not mean that the energy transition is being put on the back burner. The development of the infrastructure for liquefied natural gas in Wilhelmshaven does not involve a return to the fossil fuel era. Quite the contrary: the pace of change in our energy system is likely to increase as a result of the geopolitical crisis. For example, Uniper is accelerating the construction of the new hydrogen infrastructure in Wilhelmshaven in parallel with the LNG terminal. Our Green Wilhelmshaven project aims to meet more than 15 percent of the demand for hydrogen in Germany by 2030. As a result, over the next few years we will gradually be able phase out liquefied natural gas and increase our use of hydrogen to replace it. This is why the new gas pipeline from Wilhelmshaven to Etzel is H2-ready.
How long will the LNG terminal in Wilhelmshaven be in operation?
That is a political decision. Uniper is only the operator of the terminal. The German government will have to decide how long the terminal is needed to supply us with energy. As a business, we will definitely be pushing ahead with the use of hydrogen in Wilhelmshaven. We have already signed contracts with potential suppliers in North Africa and the Middle East and we are also talking to customers about our ability to supply them with hydrogen in the long term.