2 July 2020
Green hydrogen: driving Europe towards sustainable recovery

Green hydrogen: driving Europe towards sustainable recovery

The corona pandemic is making it abundantly clear that we need to make our economy more sustainable. This puts green hydrogen high on the energy policy agenda. As several EU Member States - including Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands - recently adopted National Hydrogen Strategies (betting on green investments to kick-start growth), this energy is set to become an important part of Europe's post-crisis recovery plan.  

The promising energy of the future

Even if hydrogen has long been touted as an alternative to fossil fuels, it presently only accounts for less than 1% of Europe’s energy consumption, and most of it is not produced from clean renewable energy sources. Green hydrogen, instead, is.

Hopes are high that it could unlock the complete decarbonisation of European industries and, with its zero greenhouse gas emissions, pave the way for climate-neutral growth in sectors such as the energy-intensive industry, heavy-duty and long-distance transport, as well as seasonal electricity storage. The key question is how to make green hydrogen an affordable driver of the energy transition.

Regions and cities set the example

The development of green hydrogen is a key issue for many regions in Europe, which are developing their own hydrogen strategies, funding programmes and green hydrogen projects, also across borders.  

For example, the 'wind energy' Land of Lower Saxony (Germany's second largest federal state and leader in renewable energies) partners up with the Netherlands in the framework of INTERREG-funded projects. Some 30 regions in the EU (including Hamburg, Britany, and Emilia-Romagna) are cooperating in the European Hydrogen Valleys Partnership.

Regions play an important role as a link between business, science and government, and are indispensable partners for the EU in the development of green hydrogen throughout the Single Market. Cities and local authorities also hold important levers through their public procurement and support for local ecosystems for innovation and development.

From a Union of Coal and Steel to one of Renewables and Hydrogen?

A successful expansion of regional projects and national hydrogen economies can only be coordinated at European level.  If clean and sustainable hydrogen is key in achieving climate neutrality by 2050, we need a comprehensive European roadmap that supports supply, demand, and infrastructure development. It must also help cities and regions to develop and promote this technology together.

European Commissioner Frans Timmermans (who is in charge of implementing the EU Green Deal) has long been a strong supporter of hydrogen. Looking ahead to the presentation of the long-awaited Strategic Plan on Hydrogen by the European Commission (set for 8 July), he stressed:

‟Before the COVID-19 crisis, cities in Europe were asking for green investment, businesses were planning for it, and people were out in the streets marching for it. Europe made the Green Deal its top priority a few short months ago, and it is now promising a Green Recovery”." Regarding hydrogen, he pursued that it should be ‟one of the decade’s breakout technologies [which] should play a key role in bolstering Europe’s transport and industry as the continent emerges from the crisis.”

Hydrogen: green, but also social

By combining climate protection, economic growth and job creation, the development of a European hydrogen economy has a great social potential, too. According to the Hydrogen Europe Roadmap report, the hydrogen economy could create about one million jobs in Europe by 2030 and 5.4 million by 2050. It would thereby give a major boost in particular to the European regions that are the most affected by the energy transition.

Green hydrogen can and must contribute to making a more just transition become a reality on the ground.

 

Cities and regions in the driving seat

Regional and local authorities are ready to play their part.

An opinion lead by PES Group member Birgit Honé (Minister for Federal and European Affairs and Regional Development of Lower Saxony) and adopted at the July plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions, sets out ambitious demands for the development of a European hydrogen economy that serves the climate, the economy and the citizens.

"Green hydrogen offers an opportunity to grow a more sustainable, competitive and resilient economy.  With green hydrogen, we can promote regional climate change mitigation efforts while at the same time support regional development. I expect the German EU Council Presidency to build on the Commission’s proposals expected shortly, also in view of funding green hydrogen projects under the future EU budget", she stressed.

 

 

Birgit Honé’s five main priorities  for an EU Strategy on Hydrogen include: strengthening EU-wide demand and production; a supportive EU legal framework for market development and infrastructure; support through investment, taxation and state aid; the promotion of research, innovation and education; and the setting-up of regional value chains and clusters.

The coming months promise an intense debate on the topic, and progressive cities and regions will do their best to make their voices heard. Together, let's make Europe a leader in the global energy transformation and shape the European Green Deal with the help of hydrogen as a true success story!

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