Guest article by Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, CEO of Hydrogen Europe
In January 2020, Hydrogen Europe’s Executive Board published a visionary paper outlining the path to ramp up a hydrogen economy with twice 40 GW of electrolysis capacity in Europe and the neighbourhood. At that time, it was not yet foreseeable what a ground-breaking character this position paper would have. Because only a few weeks later, a worldwide pandemic broke out that was to have a massive impact on the global economy and politics. Especially in the area of energy demand, a considerable decline was recorded, there were massive drops in the sectors of coal, crude oil and also natural gas. The only sector that developed positively – albeit at a low level – was the renewable energy sector. At that time, it was hardly possible to estimate how much the pandemic would affect further economic development. The crisis that has now occurred had the potential to unhinge the ambitious European Green Deal, the European response to climate change and the challenge of the Paris climate targets.
Despite the crisis situation, it would have been conceivable to return to the old “bread and butter policy” with a renaissance of fossil energies in order to secure jobs and to offer people a perspective. The Vice-President of the European Commission nevertheless opted for a different strategy: Dutchman Frans Timmermans saw the pandemic as an opportunity to make a fundamental change of course. For this purpose, a technology was needed that is emission-free and at the same time can replace fossil energy sources.
From the European Green Deal …
The paper on the ramp-up of electrolysis capacity caught his attention. Within just a few weeks of the outbreak of the pandemic, a digital conference of a size appropriate to the circumstances could be organised. A total of 15 key companies from the hydrogen economy and from the sectors of renewable energies debated with a total of three commissioners and came to the conclusion that they wanted to attempt a European reorientation towards renewable hydrogen.
The talks and discussions resulted in the EU Hydrogen Strategy, which was presented on 8 July 2020. On the same day, the European Hydrogen Alliance was launched, which now has almost 1,800 members, a hundred times as many as the Battery Alliance. Within a few months, in a new record time, the European Commission, together with the hydrogen economy, had thus demonstrated that it can act and, above all, wants to act, in the sense of a climate-friendly transformation of the entire economy.
At the same time, huge funds were decided to speed up the recovery after the pandemic. The package of 750 billion euros was quickly agreed despite heated debate, which also gave the restructuring a financial sounding board. Now the national strategies had to be adapted in line with the European hydrogen strategy.
Under the German Council Presidency, the Member States organised an initiative to support the hydrogen economy through so-called IPCEI projects (Important Projects of Common European Interest). On 17 December 2020, Federal Economics Minister Peter Altmaier invited to a corresponding conference, which was attended by the vast majority of Member States. This defined the strategy and the instruments for the ramp-up.
…Read more in the latest H2-International
Author: Jorgo Chatzimarkakis – Hydrogen Europe, Brussels