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Hydrogen has experienced a revival in Europe, as its use cases and capabilities continue to multiply in the eyes of the wider transport industry – and beyond. People are starting to realise that it is the future of travel, from passenger vehicles to freight.

As we all know, hydrogen doesn’t emit any CO2 or air pollution when used, offering a direct solution to decarbonising our world. But this is only scratching the surface of the opportunities that hydrogen can create for Europe. 

It is no surprise that it plays an essential role in supporting the European Union’s commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Earlier this month, the European Commission adopted two important strategies to implement the EU Green Deal: an Energy System Integration Strategy and a Hydrogen Strategy. With road maps being put in place, hydrogen is driving the continent towards a zero-emission future. 

To find out more, I speak with Tim McPhie, the European Commission’s Spokesperson for Climate Action and Energy.

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“Energy production and use make up 75% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, so without action to tackle this sector, we cannot become a climate-neutral continent by 2050, which is our goal,” he tells me. “Our energy systems are currently too wasteful, in part because they are built in silos and we don’t capture waste energy and waste products and re-use them. We need to start investing now to build a more integrated system. 

“We also plan to increase electrification wherever possible, drawing on renewable power sources such as wind and solar, and channeling this electricity into multiple uses, including electric vehicles,” he continues. 

Hydrogen has quickly become a solution for European business, not only to ones that can easily incorporate it into their existing frameworks but ‘hard-to-electrify’ sectors such as heavy industry and transport.  

The Solution 

Becoming climate-neutral by 2050 will be a huge accomplishment for the continent and will drive future energy innovations within different sectors of the market. We are already seeing new opportunities being created, despite hydrogen only having a very minimal slice of the energy sector. This alone shows the significant role hydrogen will play as we move into a new decade. 

“Hydrogen is an important part of the solution. For now, it makes up about 2% of the EU energy mix, but this could rise to around 14% by 2050,” says McPhie. “Hydrogen can power sectors that are not suitable for electrification and provide storage to balance variable renewable energy flows, but this can only be achieved with coordinated action between the public and private sector, at EU level.”

Before we get to this point, we need to ensure sufficient infrastructure across the region. Although hydrogen is an extremely sustainable source of energy, there are difficulties generating and transporting it effectively.

To aid with these teething problems, Europe will introduce new rules to improve the adoption of hydrogen and the appropriate infrastructure. This is vital in overcoming the infamous ‘chicken and egg’ scenario we have seen in recent years with battery electric vehicles and charging stations. 

McPhie explains that the Commission has already proposed new policy and regulatory measures to create investor certainty, facilitate the uptake of hydrogen, promote the necessary infrastructure and logistical networks, adapt infrastructure planning tools, and support investments. 

“To help deliver on this Strategy, the Commission launched the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance with industry leaders, civil society, national and regional ministers and the European Investment Bank,” he says. “The Alliance will build up an investment pipeline for scaled-up production and will support demand for clean hydrogen in the EU.”

Securing a Cleaner Future – and a Stronger Economy

In order to integrate these new systems into existing frameworks, the Commission needs to amend previous rules and regulations to help boost the energy sector which, in turn, will create new opportunities for securing a stronger economy. 

“These Strategies both set out a long list of actions that we need to take in the coming years, from legislative and policy changes to updates of market rules,” says McPhie. “All of this is intended to encourage the development of the market in clean energy, and to build the necessary infrastructure.”

Sometime in the autumn, the Commission will present an Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy, and a ‘Renovation Wave’ to promote energy efficiency in buildings. It will also make a proposal by the end of 2020 to revise the ‘TEN-E’ Regulation, which McPhie tells me is the core rule book for energy infrastructure development in Europe.

By creating new opportunities, both environmentally and economically, hydrogen can be utilised to revive many industries in a post-pandemic world. McPhie believes that the highly-efficient and sustainable energy source has the potential to help the continent recover from the damage during COVID-19 and help assert itself as a global leader in zero-emission technology.

“The new hydrogen economy can be a growth engine to help overcome the economic damage caused by COVID-19. In developing and deploying a clean hydrogen value chain, Europe can become a global front runner and retain its leadership in clean tech,” he says. 

Of course, this won’t happen overnight; a sophisticated road map has been put in place to help the industry in Europe develop in sync, rolling out in phases and a gradual transition. 

“From 2020 to 2024, we will support the installation of at least six gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolysers in the EU, and the production of up to one million tonnes of renewable hydrogen,” adds McPhie. 

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

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