By Vera Eckert and Tom Käckenhoff
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German utility Uniper <UN01.DE> has signed a cooperation deal with Siemens <SIEGn.DE> to look at using hydrogen at its gas-fired power plants and producing the carbon-free gas with power from its wind turbines.
Uniper, which is on a drive to lower its carbon emissions, said it hoped to zero in on initial project ideas with its partner within six to twelve months.
"Hydrogen offers the possibility to decarbonise gas. One site that could offer this opportunity is Irsching near Munich," Uniper chief executive Andreas Schierenbeck told Reuters.
"We are also thinking about hydrolysis plants, for example near wind turbine sites, which we could operate to produce hydrogen."
Germany and other European Union countries are seeking to shift to more environmentally-friendly ways of producing power from gas, as well as wider uses for renewable energy, which is abundant but often produced far away from consumption.
Uniper could use hydrogen-ready turbines to replace CO2-emitting natural gas, and could derive and market hydrogen made by running excess wind power through water in a process known as power-to-gas, Schierenbeck said.
Germany loses 1.2-1.4 billion euros ($1.3-1.5 billion) worth of wind power a year because it cannot be transported from generation centres in the north to users in the south.
Currently, Uniper's gas portfolio amounts to 14 gigawatts (GW), representing 60% of profit. Coal accounts for 9.2 GW and a 20% profit share, with renewables and services the remainder.
"A big share of our gas turbines comes from Siemens. We also talk with others, but we want to cooperate closely with Siemens to study projects, and, after presenting our new strategy want to put words into action," Schierenbeck said.
The move with Siemens also includes efforts to switch existing coal plant sites, most of which Uniper has announced it will abandon by 2025, to green installations. [nL8N2B457T]
Uniper said last month that over the next three years it would invest more than 1.2 billion euros in low carbon projects, which it will operate and then trade the output.
It operates under the scrutiny of top shareholder Fortum <FORTUM.HE>, which also focuses on clean technology.
The 1,400 MW Irsching gas plant, built by Siemens, is currently in reserve mode, under a scheme in which plants are idled, but paid to be ready to produce power if needed.
The Siemens power turbine units have become part of the new Siemens Energy company, that is seeking a share listing by the end of September.
It will be steered as of May 1 by new CEO Christian Bruch, who brings hydrogen expertise from his time at industrial gases maker Linde <LIN.N>. [nL8N2BC8TG]
($1 = 0.9213 euros)
(Editing by Michelle Martin and Mark Potter)