Speech pronounced at the occasion of the Hydrogen Alliance Forum on the 17th of June, 2021
We are at a turning point for hydrogen.
Just look at the impressive pipeline of projects gathered this spring under the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance: more than one thousand projects!
It is almost unbelievable to see the energy across Europe now channelled towards clean hydrogen projects.
Of course, this is the result of research and development efforts conducted over the last 15 years.
It is a fact: Europe is a leader in the development of many clean hydrogen technologies. We have developed an important strategic capacity, in particular thanks to the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking. Since 2008, it has funded projects with a combined public-private investment of nearly €2 billion.
As a result, universities and companies in Europe have increased the efficiencies of electrolysers and fuel cells, reduced the use of critical raw materials, and demonstrated the feasibility of hydrogen-based industrial processes.
But so far, these projects have often remained small-scale and isolated.
Now, as the technology matures and the pressure to decarbonise increases, it is time to move to large-scale industrial deployment of clean hydrogen technologies.
Transforming technology leadership into market leadership is not easy. But we can do it!
In fact, we have just done it over the last few months: for COVID-19 vaccines. Not only did Europe invent the vaccines (4 out 5 have been developed by European researchers, with European money); we are also the first industrial continent in terms of vaccines production.
55 factories are mobilised across Europe day and night, 7 days a week, to produce 300 million vaccines per month! And not just for Europe, but for the entire world. Half of our production, 400 million doses so far, is exported to supply vaccines in 92 countries.
What we have succeeded in doing on vaccines, we can also do on other strategic technologies. And hydrogen is one of them!
But let’s be clear: we need to move fast, with conviction, based on our strengths, and at continental scale!
In our update of the Commission’s industrial strategy last month, we highlighted important strategic dependencies and key issues that we need to address to increase our ability to make choices without economic and geopolitical strings attached.
For hydrogen, these include access to critical raw materials and the availability of large amounts of decarbonised electricity.
Via the European Raw Materials Alliance, we are securing our access to critical and strategic raw materials by developing partnerships with resource rich countries, attracting investment and innovation to make the most of recycling opportunities, and explore the scope for sustainable mining in Europe. We have already identified investment opportunities across 17 European countries worth €10 billion. If these projects were realised, 20% of Europe’s rare earth needs could be sourced from the EU. Up from close to zero today.
Regarding decarbonised energy, if we wait for 10 years until renewable energy projects have reached sufficient scale, until the infrastructure is ready and components available on the market, then others will overtake us and we will find ourselves having to buy their technologies.
Yes, as the EU hydrogen strategy clearly recalls, our priority is to develop green hydrogen. But in the short to medium-term, all types of decarbonised energy are needed. If we want to create a virtuous cycle and boost the hydrogen economy in Europe, we need to start working on production of clean hydrogen, in parallel to the infrastructure, and the market demand.
We have no choice: we need to ramp up our production capacities in electrolysers and fuel cells, build the world’s first hydrogen-based steel plants and bring hydrogen planes to the market. This is our chance to shape the future of the hydrogen economy.
Because let’s face it: we are not alone in this race. Look at the United States, but also China, Japan and Korea: they all have strong capacities in the field of hydrogen.
This is why the Hydrogen Alliance, and the matchmaking we are kicking off today, are so essential. We want to shift gears, roll out our technologies, build integrated EU value chains.
The objective is to present a pipeline of investment projects during the November Hydrogen Forum.
We will provide a complete summary of the projects received today and tomorrow. What I can tell you already now is that I am impressed by the diversity of players involved: innovators and established companies; hydrogen producers and offtakers, component manufacturers and solution providers.
In addition, for a large number of projects collected, deployment is expected to start in the next 3 to 4 years.
This is excellent news, and justifies other, parallel efforts on two key aspects.
First, access to finance.
Project financing is a challenge, especially for smaller companies, and in some Member States.
EU-wide cooperation and advisory services, for example from the European Investment Bank who will present later today, can play an important role in overcoming this barrier.
Especially in an initial phase, public funding support will have an important role to play.
At EU level, we have important means at hand: research and development programmes, regional development and infrastructure funds, funds to support the demonstration of innovative clean energy technologies, [such as the EU Innovation Fund dear to my colleague Frans].
Member States too are putting into place important support programmes, many part-funded by the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility.
And they are preparing what I hope could be a series of Important Projects of Common European Interest.
But it is not just about the amount of available funding. It is also about channelling these resources efficiently.
This is why my services have developed a new Hydrogen Public Funding Compass, which we are presenting today: an online tool that guides projects towards the relevant public funding instruments.
The second key issue for the large-scale deployment of hydrogen: the policy and regulatory conditions.
Executive Vice-President Timmermans [Frans] already made some important points on how this will be addressed in the Fit for 55 package.
Later this year, we will complement this package with a review of EU legislation on gas markets. We will discuss these ambitious proposals this afternoon, which I believe will reinforce the momentum for hydrogen deployment.
We are all working towards the same goal: building an integrated clean hydrogen value chain across Europe.
We will continue to discussing the support to low-carbon hydrogen; the need for prioritisation of hydrogen use across sectors; the overall infrastructure needs and the role of public financing.
But I think we can all agree on the potential of clean hydrogen to achieve our climate goals, create jobs and make Europe more competitive. It is important that we work together in this spirit.
I am looking forward to the discussions in this Hydrogen Forum, and to see the work of the Alliance go forward. You can count on my full support.