By Vera Eckert and Tom Käckenhoff
FRANKFURT/DUESSELDORF (Reuters) -Germany must accelerate a hydrogen law revision, which is pending in Berlin, to allow for related investments in gas transport networks up to the end of the decade, said the head of the biggest gas pipeline operator, Open Grid Europe (OGE).
Gas carriers must prepare for the shift to renewables to complement Germany's plan to produce, import and market clean hydrogen, derived from carbon-free wind and solar power, as a future energy source.
"I would like the revision of the hydrogen strategy update to be completed in the first quarter of 2023," OGE chief Joerg Bergmann told Reuters in an interview.
"Investment decisions have to be taken now, ideally by the summer, because adjusting and expanding pipelines to carry hydrogen needs between around three and six years," he said on the sidelines of the Handelsblatt Energy Summit 2023.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck told the conference that hydrogen-ready gas-fired power plants must also be part of the climate strategy, replacing coal and nuclear energy.
Germany plans to achieve 10 gigawatts of green hydrogen production capacity by 2030 to complement imports.
The chief of OGE, which operates 12,000 km of high-pressure pipelines, said Berlin's failure to act now could lead to a loss of industry that depends on secure energy supplies.
The European Union should decide on rules for un-bundling gas networks by the summer, Bergmann also said.
Some campaigners want to block joint operations of hydrogen and gas grids by the same company to reduce the role of fossil fuel incumbents in the future.
The grouping of German gas pipeline operators last year estimated 8 billion euros ($8.69 billion) were necessary to account for hydrogen in their 2022-2032 investment plans, which are refunded via network usage fees.
Additional funds for OGE's plans would be covered by its shareholders, Bergmann said.
These are Macquarie with 24%, British Columbia Investment Management, with a 32% stake, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority with 25%, and Munich Re with 19%.
Bergmann declined to comment on market talk that Macquarie wants to sell its share.
($1 = 0.9207 euros)
(Reporting by Vera Eckert and Tom Kaeckenhoff, additional reporting by Christoph Steitz, editing by Rachel More and Tomasz Janowski)