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.
However, hydrogen can also be produced from renewable energy. Renewable hydrogen ('green' or 'clean' hydrogen) is expected to play a key role in decarbonising sectors where other alternatives might not be feasible, or might be more expensive. These include transport and energy-intensive industrial processes.
Renewable hydrogen can be made via electrolysis, by using renewable electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Renewable hydrogen can in turn be used to replace fossil-based hydrogen for industrial processes, or to start new industrial products such as green fertilisers and steel. It can also be used in the transport sector, especially in heavy-duty and long-distance trucks, buses, ships and planes.
It’s also compatible with an electricity sector that’s increasingly dominated by renewable power generation, providing long-term and large-scale storage, and adding flexibility to the energy system.
Renewable hydrogen can also help balance the 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 other stand-alone area.
EU hydrogen strategy
Hydrogen will be an important part of the overall EU strategy for energy system integration.
In 2020, the Commission adopted a new dedicated strategy on hydrogen in Europe. It will bring together different strands of action – from research and innovation via production and infrastructure to the international dimension.
The strategy will explore how producing and using renewable hydrogen can help decarbonise the EU economy in a cost-effective way, in line with the European Green Deal (and also helping the post-COVID-19 economic recovery).
For details, see:
- Factsheet – EU hydrogen strategy
- EU hydrogen strategy – roadmap
- Study – hydrogen generation in Europe (identifies investment opportunities in the hydrogen value chain in 2020-50, and the associated benefits in terms of jobs).
Certain sectors are likely to remain reliant on combustible fuels in future. This means that the EU’s carbon-neutral ambition is unlikely to be achieved by the greater use of electrification alone. 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 a fuel, in industries as a material and in agriculture for fertilisers.
The storage potential of hydrogen is particularly beneficial for power grids, as hydrogen allows for renewable energy to be kept not only in large quantities, but also for long periods. This means that hydrogen can help improve the flexibility of energy systems by balancing out supply and demand when there’s either too much or not enough power being generated. This will also help boost energy efficiency throughout Europe.
- 2020 Commission study – Impact of biomethane and hydrogen on trans-European infrastructure
- The regulatory framework to spur development of biomethane and hydrogen, including the Trans-European Networks for Energy and the Connecting Europe Facility.
Hydrogen Energy Network (HyENet)
This is an informal group of representatives from the energy ministries in EU countries. It aims to help national energy authorities build on the opportunities offered by hydrogen as an energy carrier.
It acts as an informal platform for sharing information on good practice, experience and the latest developments, as well as joint work on specific issues.
- Minutes of HyENet meetings
European Clean Hydrogen Alliance
The European Clean Hydrogen Alliance was launched alongside the EU hydrogen strategy in 2020 as part of the new industrial strategy for Europe.
The alliance brings together industry, national and local authorities, civil society and other stakeholders. Its aim is for an ambitious deployment of hydrogen technologies by 2030 by bringing together renewable and low-carbon hydrogen production, demand in industry, transport and other sectors, and hydrogen transmission and distribution.
The EU promotes several research and innovation projects on hydrogen under its Horizon 2020 research programme. These projects are managed through the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), a joint public-private partnership supported by the Commission.
The 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.
- Factsheet - The role of hydrogen in meeting our 2030 climate and energy targets (July 2021)
- Study – Role of hydrogen in National Energy and Climate Plans (by FCH JU, 31/08/20)
- Hydrogen generation in Europe – Overview of costs and key benefits (July 2020)
- 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, International Renewable Energy Agency)
- Sector Forum Energy Management / Working Group Hydrogen (2016, European Joint Research Centre)
- Article: Hydrogen - driving the green revolution (EN | FR | DE | IT | ES | PL, April 2021)
- 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)
- Q&A – A hydrogen strategy for a climate neutral Europe (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)