The urgent need for a technological shift to clean, affordable energy is clear. Hydrogen is part of the solution. It is playing an increasingly vital role in the transformation to a carbon-clean energy system, writes Bart Biebuyck, Executive Director of the Clean Hydrogen Partnership.
COP26, held in Glasgow in November, highlighted the critical need to decarbonise our energy systems and reach net zero CO2 by 2050. Europe is working hard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 °C and hydrogen is proving to be an indispensable technology for achieving these goals.
The EU’s policies and initiatives such as the Green Deal and Fit for 55 provide the policy support needed for the development of the hydrogen-based economy: now is the time for bold action and implementation.
Better cooperation, faster roll-out
The Clean Hydrogen Partnership, which was launched during the European Hydrogen Week in Brussels, represents a milestone in the efforts to deploy a European value chain for clean hydrogen technologies. It succeeds the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) and builds on over 13 years of cooperation between industry, research and government.
The Partnership will accelerate the roll-out of large-scale, integrated hydrogen technologies. It will support these innovative technologies graduate from the experimental phases to be exploited by industry, businesses and consumers for the benefit of the citizens.
The high demand for green electricity to produce clean hydrogen is an opportunity for the EU’s regions to build their renewable energy capacity and supply the rest of Europe. It can lead to European partnerships with North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, where there is large, untapped capacity for solar electricity generation.
Europe can contribute to sustainable development in these regions in exchange for renewable energy. Partnerships like these will help ensure energy security.
Opportunities for growth, jobs
The massive investments in the hydrogen economy are opening up opportunities for employment, for research and innovation, and skills training. The hydrogen value chain is expected to employ more than one million people by 2030 and more than five million by 2050. New job skills are needed along the hydrogen value chain; we need researchers and innovators, more PhD students, training and upskilling.
Hydrogen energy is not a silver bullet; it is a means to achieve our climate objectives, along with other technologies. As Ann Mettler, Vice President – Europe at Breakthrough Energy pointed out during Hydrogen Week: It’s a good bullet, but others are needed. It’s a good bullet because it is versatile. It can be produced from different energy sources for different applications, from heavy industry and transport to domestic heating.
While hydrogen is still more expensive than fossil fuels, the target of EUR 1.80/kg for hydrogen is within reach, according to the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Clean hydrogen – made from renewable electricity – is now cost competitive with grey hydrogen given the current high gas prices. Electrolysers, the heart of clean hydrogen production, can use leftover energy produced from renewables and help balance the energy grid. Europe is the global leader in electrolyser technology and has the funding and capacity to scale up to gigawatt capacity.
Big investment and restructuring
European manufacturers are ready to scale up from megawatt to gigawatt capacity but need to see a clear pipeline for investment. Whether bankable, industry-use projects see the light of day sooner rather than later will depend on the legal framework and government support.
In response, the European Commission’s Hydrogen and decarbonised gas market package was launched on 15 December. This commitment to hydrogen will attract more investors and ensure the scaling-up of projects, foster integrated energy system planning and promote consumer engagement.
Rolling out hydrogen technology and infrastructure needs big investments. It will require a reorganisation and refurbishment of Europe’s industrial sites on a scale not seen since the end of World War II, as MEP Christian Ehler said during a Hydrogen Week discussion.
This is why the EU will support the Clean Hydrogen Partnership with EUR 1 billion from 2021 to 2027, to be complemented by at least an equal amount from the private sector.
The capital markets are also gathering behind green hydrogen. The European Investment Bank’s Group Climate Bank intends to mobilise EUR 1 trillion in climate action projects by 2030, for example.
Many speakers at Hydrogen Week called for greater connections – between all stakeholders along the value chain, including research and industry, and between projects. Connecting multiple projects in an integrated geographical ecosystem, known as ‘hydrogen valleys’, will create a snowball effect that will ensure that supply of and demand for hydrogen feed each other, creating a solid business case.
About the Clean Hydrogen Partnership
The Clean Hydrogen Partnership – the successor of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) – aims to accelerate the development and improvement of advanced clean hydrogen technologies. It builds on 13 years of cooperation between public and private sectors through the FCH JU to help innovative technologies graduate from the experimental phases to be exploited by industry, businesses and consumers for the benefit of Europe. The three members of the partnership are the European Commission, fuel cell and hydrogen industries represented by Hydrogen Europe and the research community represented by Hydrogen Europe Research.