Europe hits the hy-road

The EC's Frans Timmermans and Kadri Simson unveil their hydrogen strategy in Brussels in July

The European Commission (EC) has unveiled new strategies for energy system integration and hydrogen that are designed to be key investment pillars of Europe’s Green Deal, as well as its economic recovery post-coronavirus.

They were launched by Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson and Executive Vice-President for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, who said that he believed both strategies were “crucial for our Green Deal.”

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Smart Energy International Issue 4-2020
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“They are ambitious, they are necessaryࢀ¦ and they put us firmly on a path towards climate neutrality.”

He added that they would also allow the EU to “retain global leadership in cleantech” and put climate action at the heart of Europe’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Green Deal remains our compass throughout this recovery,” he stressed.

And he added that the two new strategies were vital if Europe had any realistic hope of hitting its target of being climate neutral by 2050.

Frans Timmermans

Timmermans said the hydrogen strategy is designed to spotlight how ” with the right investments, regulation, market creation and research and innovation ” hydrogen can help decarbonise industry, transport, power generation and buildings across Europe.

The EC believes that investment in hydrogen “will foster sustainable growth and jobs, which will be critical in the context of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.”

It notes that Europe “is highly competitive in clean hydrogen technologies manufacturing and is well positioned to benefit from a global development of clean hydrogen as an energy carrier.” The EC suggests that cumulative investments in renewable hydrogen in Europe could hit €470 billion by 2050, and adds that “the emergence of a hydrogen value chain serving a multitude of industrial sectors and other end uses could employ up to one million people, directly or indirectly.” But the new strategy document highlights that “deploying hydrogen in Europe faces important challenges that neither the private sector nor Member States can address alone.”

“Driving hydrogen development past the tipping point needs critical mass in investment, an enabling regulatory framework, new lead markets, sustained research and innovation into breakthrough technologies and for bringing new solutions to the market, a large-scale infrastructure network that only the EU and the single market can offer, and cooperation with third-country partners.” The strategy is certainly ambitious: between now and 2024 it intends to support the installation of at least 6 GW of clean hydrogen electrolysers in the EU, and the production of up to one million tonnes of renewable hydrogen.

Then from 2025 to 2030, it envisions hydrogen becoming “an intrinsic part of our integrated energy system, with at least 40 GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers and the production of up to ten million tonnes of renewable hydrogen in the EU. 2050, renewable hydrogen technologies “should reach maturity and be deployed at large scale across all hard-to decarbonise sectors.”

“Driving hydrogen development past the tipping point needs critical mass in investment”

To help deliver on the strategy, the EC launched a European Clean Hydrogen Alliance which will include national and regional ministers and the European Investment Bank, as well as major players from the power sector, such as Austrian utility Verbund. Its chief executive Wolfgang Anzengruber said: “We believe in the potential of large-scale renewable hydrogen production in Europe. The industry stands ready to deliver on this historic opportunity for Europe to take a technological leadership role.” Also part of the alliance is French multinational tyre manufacturer Michelin.

Chief executive Florent Menegaux said: “Hydrogen is a perfect solution for long-haul, heavy-duty and commercial vehicles. The extensive development of clean hydrogen corridors and ecosystems will be a huge step towards sustainable mobility, with significant environmental and economic benefits.”

Timmermans said that the alliance would build up an investment pipeline for scaled up production and support demand for clean hydrogen in the EU.

“Clean hydrogen is key for a strong, competitive and carbon-free economy,” he said, adding that Europe was “leading the world in this technologyࢀ¦ but we need to make an extra effort to stay ahead because the rest of the world is catching up.”

Kadri Simson

Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said: “With 75% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from energy, we need a paradigm shift to reach our 2030 and 2050 targets. The EU’s energy system has to become better integrated, more flexible and able to accommodate the cleanest and most cost-effective solutions.

“Hydrogen will play a key role in this, as falling renewable energy prices and continuous innovation make it a viable solution for a climate-neutral economy.” Players in the European energy sector welcomed both strategies. Eurogas secretary-general James Watson said that while “there are many different pathways to achieve an energy system integration for a climate-neutral Europeࢀ¦” the Commission strategies “confirm that we will need gaseous molecules to deliver climate neutrality in the most affordable and cost-effective way for EU citizens.”

“This is going to be a step change for the gas sector and one which we [Eurogas] are embracing and leading,” he added.

“We have already called for targets for renewable and decarbonised gas to be set for 2030.

“Ramping up hydrogen is a future-proof solution to achieve climate neutrality and provide Europeans with millions of jobs in clean technologies made in Europe.”

Watson said the European Hydrogen Alliance will make sure that all clean hydrogen technologies ” carbon capture and storage, pyrolysis, electrolysers ” are used to kick-start the hydrogen economy.

And he added that investing in carbon capture and storage “is a no-regrets option that can deliver the foundations of the future hydrogen market without delay. We also need mass deployment of renewable electricity, coupled with the increased speed of coal retirement in the electricity sector, to deliver renewable hydrogen and quick carbon reductions.”

Kristian Ruby, secretary-general of Eurelectric, said that the integration strategy “spells out direct electrification as a key principle to reach carbon neutrality.”

“Creating synergies between siloed structures of the energy system is essential for building a more efficient, flexible and decarbonised system.”

And while Ruby backs widespread electrification, he said that hydrogen “would play an important complementary role in the decarbonisation of energy intensive sectors.”

He said the plan to establish a clean hydrogen value chain was comprehensive yet cautioned that “while implementing it, it remains critical to ensure that due attention is given to direct electrification measures, as they will be the most efficient and account for the larger CO2 abatement effects in the short and medium term.”

Maria Joàƒ£o Duarte, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems’ representative to the EU Institutions, said: “there are so many reasons to be excited about hydrogen in Europe right now.”

She said it is “pretty much on everyone’s agenda, as there is an overwhelming agreement among players on the importance of hydrogen in a carbon neutral Europe. More and more European countries have hydrogen on their political agenda.”

But she stressed that “Europe is only one piece of the puzzle ” there is global consensus on hydrogen’s importance.” She said the test projects showing the most promising signs of full-scale development are those involving complex supply chains.

“The projects which look at scaling-up production alongside transport, storage and consumption of hydrogen have the most potential.”

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