Preparing for the hydrogen economy

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Clean hydrogen is experiencing significant political and business interest for its myriad opportunities in sustainable energy, mobility, and industry. Globally, investments in research, development, and pilot projects are growing considerably as countries and regions seek to take a leading role in the hydrogen economy, which will have a high potential for economic development and job creation, from high-skilled experts to blue-collar workers alike.

Hydrogen is recognised as being an important part of our decarbonisation efforts, particularly for sectors that are difficult to electrify, such as long-distance travel and heavy industry.

It has a high energy density, can be stored, and transported, and can be used to balance out intermittent electricity generation from renewables. When hydrogen is combusted, it produces only water vapour as an emission – as long as it is produced with renewable energy, it is a fully renewable fuel.

However, production, storage, distribution, and combustion technologies need further development before real impact can be achieved. Most hydrogen production pathways are not clean, relying on carbon-intensive energy. Clean hydrogen, produced with renewable energy is not yet cost-competitive.

Therefore, public authorities across the continent are looking to establish support policies and initiatives for hydrogen development, from research programmes, to strategies, awareness-raising schemes, and pilot investments.

The European Hydrogen Strategy

At the European level, the European Commission launched its ‘Hydrogen Strategy for a Climate Neutral Europe’ in 2020, as one of the initiatives of the European Green Deal. It aims to accelerate and support the development of Europe’s hydrogen economy and has set targets for industrial deployment to bring research to market scale. The Strategy looks to boost clean hydrogen production in Europe, with a three-step pathway:

  • Up to 2024 – The strategy will support the installation of at least 6GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers and the production of 1 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen;
  • 2025-2030 – Hydrogen will become an intrinsic part of the integrated energy system, with at least 40GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers and production of up to 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen;
  • 2030 onwards – Renewable hydrogen will be deployed at scale across all hard to decarbonise sectors.

Accompanying the Hydrogen Strategy, the Commission has also established the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance, focusing on key topics of production, transmission and distribution, industrial applications, mobility, energy, and residential applications.

The Alliance itself has begun several initiatives for engaging hydrogen stakeholders and encouraging investments, including the ECHA Project Pipeline with more than 750 projects, and the Hydrogen Public Funding Compass, as an online guide to identify project funding. This includes European programmes such as Horizon Europe, NextGenerationEU, the Connecting Europe Facility, and InvestEU, but also national funding in EU Member States.

Under Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme, hydrogen is also a prominent priority under the Clean Hydrogen Partnership (formerly the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking), a public-private partnership of Hydrogen Europe (Industry), Hydrogen Europe Research (Universities & Research and Technology Organisations ) and the European Commission (Policy), with a budget of two billion EUR for 2021-2027, provided 50-50 from public and private sources.

Good Practices for regional approaches

Regions in Europe are already starting to develop approaches for supporting hydrogen development. A first step for most is establishing a Strategy and Action Plan to set a long-term goal and the actions to get there.

The City of Aberdeen (Scotland, UK) has high ambitions to develop its hydrogen economy and develop a Hydrogen Hub, building on an existing skill base resulting from its position in oil, gas and offshore wind. The city developed a Hydrogen Strategy and Action Plan for 2015-2025, and has so far invested 35 Million GBP into projects, including acquisition of hydrogen trucks, installation of hydrogen refuelling stations, and trialling hydrogen buses.

The strategy also seeks to raise awareness of the potential of hydrogen, including engagement with policy-makers to adapt policy and regulation so that hydrogen technologies can be fostered at regional and national level. This has involved discussions with stakeholders in a Steering Committee, engagement with all relevant departments in the council, and performing a study with public authorities to determine interest and potential in using hydrogen in their fleets.

As with the development of most technologies, clusters are a vital concept for speeding up innovation. For hydrogen, these are often known as a ‘hydrogen valley’, defined as a geographic area (a city, region, or cluster) where multiple hydrogen applications are combined into an integrated ecosystem that can cover the full hydrogen value chain – production, storage, distribution, and use – to enable collaboration and improve economic feasibility.

Examples in Europe include the emerging Green Hydrogen Valley in Western Macedonia (Greece), a coal transition region which has established an Important Project of Common European Interest for hydrogen development, and GetHyGA in Aragon (Spain), involving almost eighty companies under the Aragon Hydrogen Master Plan.

Other countries are establishing local investment programmes, like the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Leap programme, which is funding projects for clean hydrogen development. One such project is demonstrating how wind power can power hydrogen production, producing 100kg of hydrogen per day as a pilot case for broader uptake.

Yet others are setting the groundwork for uptake of hydrogen-fuelled technologies, with awareness-raising events. Within the framework of the European Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, Stara Zagora (Bulgaria) has run an awareness-raising event to promote hydrogen in the region and enable drivers to test a hydrogen vehicle, with huge interest from the public.

Such events are key to building acceptance of new technologies. Returning to Scotland, Aberdeen has also sought to develop a greater understanding and acceptance of hydrogen technologies in industry and the general public through integrating hydrogen vehicles into car sharing schemes, running hydrogen tours, and setting up school challenges.

Find out more

To find out more about Europe’s Hydrogen Strategy, visit the European Commission’s Hydrogen webpage. For more good practices and related news, you can scroll through the carousels below.

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Regional policy