Hydrogen accounts for less than 2% of Europe’s present energy consumption and is primarily used to produce chemical products, such as plastics and fertilisers. 96% of this hydrogen production is produced through natural gas, emitting significant amounts of CO2 emissions in the process.
Hydrogen can however also be produced from renewable energy. This so-called renewable hydrogen (also called green hydrogen) is expected to play a key role in the decarbonisation of sectors where other alternatives might not be feasible or be more expensive. This includes heavy-duty and long-range transport and energy-intensive industrial processes.
Renewable hydrogen and decarbonisation
Renewable ‘green’ hydrogen can be produced in electrolysers by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen using renewable electricity. Renewable hydrogen can in turn be used to produce industrial products, such as green fertilisers and green steel. It can also be used in the mobility sector, especially in heavy-duty and long-distance transport applications.
It is also compatible with an electricity sector that is increasingly dominated by renewable power generation, providing long-term and large-scale storage, and flexibility to the energy system.
Renewable hydrogen can also help balance supply and demand of electricity in isolated or stand-alone regions of the EU, or for specific and local uses, concentrated in a city or restricted area.
EU hydrogen strategy
The EU strategy for energy system integration will outline a vision to create a smarter, more integrated and optimised energy system, in which all sectors can fully contribute to decarbonisation. Hydrogen will be an important element of that strategy, but its key role and its wider scope warrant a specific approach.
In this context, the Commission adopted on 8 July 2020 a new dedicated strategy on hydrogen in Europe, in parallel with the strategy on energy system integration. It will bring together different strands of action, from research and innovation over production and infrastructure to the international dimension
The new hydrogen strategy will explore the potential of clean hydrogen to help the process of decarbonising the EU economy in a cost-effective way, in line with the 2050 climate-neutrality goal, set out in the European Green Deal. It should also contribute to the recovery from the economic effects of COVID-19.
The strategy will explore actions to support the production and use of clean hydrogen, focusing in particular on the mainstreaming of renewable hydrogen. More details in the factsheet “A Hydrogen Strategy for a climate neutral Europe”.
Before the strategy was adopted its ideas were presented in a EU Hydrogen Strategy Roadmap, which was launched on 26 May and open for feedback from stakeholders and the public until 8 June 2020.
To support the hydrogen strategy, the Commission conducted a study on hydrogen generation in Europe. The study collects evidence based on the latest publicly available data for identifying investment opportunities in the hydrogen value chain over the period from 2020 to 2050, and the associated benefits in terms of jobs.
Certain sectors are likely to remain reliant on combustible fuels for various purposes in future. This means that the EU’s carbon-neutral ambition is unlikely to be achieved alone by the greater use of electrification. One potential solution is to convert renewable energy sources into hydrogen, as the processed hydrogen provides high-grade heat that can be used in transport as fuels, in industries as material and in agriculture for fertilisers.
The storage potential of hydrogen is particularly beneficial for power grids, as hydrogen allows for renewable energy sources to be kept, not only in large quantities, but also for long periods. Significantly, this means that hydrogen can help improve the flexibility of energy systems by balancing out supply and demand when there is either too much or not enough power generation. This will also help boost energy efficiency throughout Europe.
The European Commission published, in April 2020, a study on the Impact of the use of the biomethane and hydrogen potential on trans-European infrastructure showing that biomethane and hydrogen will play a greater role in the EU energy system, given the continuing decarbonisation. A dedicated regulatory framework, including the Trans-European Networks for Energy (TEN-E) and the Connection Europe Facility (CEF) will spur their development.
Hydrogen Energy Network
The Commission has set up an informal group of experts, composed of representatives from the ministries in charge of energy policy in EU Member States, called the Hydrogen Energy Network (HyENet). This expert group aims to support national authorities in charge of energy policy to develop on the opportunities offered by hydrogen as an energy carrier.
HyENet will act as an informal platform of exchange for information, sharing of good practices, experiences and latest developments, as well as joint work on specific issues.
The meeting proceedings are available to the public.
European Clean Hydrogen Alliance
The European Clean Hydrogen Alliance was announced as part of the new industrial strategy for Europe in March 2020 and was launched on 8 July 2020, at the same time as the EU hydrogen strategy.
The alliance brings together industry, national and local public authorities, civil society and other stakeholders. It aims at an ambitious deployment of hydrogen technologies by 2030, bringing together renewable and low-carbon hydrogen production, demand in industry, mobility and other sectors, and hydrogen transmission and distribution.
At the first edition of the European Hydrogen Forum (November 2020) the alliance entered a new crucial phase and agreed to launch six thematic roundtables in key areas of hydrogen production, transportation and use.
The EU promotes several research and innovation projects on hydrogen within the Horizon 2020 framework. These projects are managed through the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), a joint public-private partnership that is supported by the European Commission.
The European Commission and FCH JU are association partners in Hydrogen Europe, the European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association. Hydrogen Europe promotes hydrogen as the enabler of a zero emission society.
Study: The role of hydrogen in the National Energy and Climate Plans (by FCH 31/08/20)
EU strategy on hydrogen COM(2020) 301 final (July 2020)
Factsheet: EU hydrogen strategy (July 2020)
Hydrogen from renewable power: Technology outlook for the energy transition (December 2018, IRENA)
Sector Forum Energy Management / Working Group Hydrogen (2016, European Joint Research Centre)
- Recovery from coronavirus: success stories – “Hydrogen to drive the EU’s green recovery (December 2020)
- Powering a climate-neutral economy: Commission sets out plans for the energy system of the future and clean hydrogen (Press release 8 July 2020)
Video: EU Hydrogen Strategy (July 2020)
- EU strategy on energy system integration
- Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU)
- Hydrogen Europe
- Hydrogen and fuel cells, European Joint Research Centre
- European Clean Hydrogen Alliance (DG for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs)
- Hydrogen for climate action (DG for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMES, and Hydrogen Europe)
- Energy storage (DG Research and Innovation)