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News article12 December 2023Clean Hydrogen Joint Undertaking7 min read

Accelerating the hydrogen economy - the time is now

Accelerating the hydrogen economy - the time is now

The policy conference at the 2023 European Hydrogen Week showed a focus on strengthening the market, and increasing both the scale and speed of the hydrogen economy, among important announcements by EU leaders regarding the launch of world's first hydrogen bank.

European Hydrogen Week, held in Brussels from 20-24 November, provided policymakers and industry with a forum to discuss the state of the hydrogen economy and for the Clean Hydrogen Partnership to present the innovative results of its various funded projects.

The twin global challenges of climate change and energy security mean that the European Union has a pressing need to establish low-polluting, flexible energy systems which will achieve its emission reduction goals by 2050.

‘From dialogue with industry to the actual creation of Europe's hydrogen market. Setting it on the fast track. That is exactly the core business of the European Hydrogen Week,’ European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told delegates during her keynote speech launching the High-Level Policy Conference.

They discussed the potential of the growing hydrogen sector and discovered innovative projects on clean hydrogen technologies and ecosystems being developed through the Clean Hydrogen Partnership.

The EU has to date invested EUR 70 billion in numerous hydrogen projects across the EU. This year’s event also saw the announcement, of the first pilot auction of the much-anticipated European Hydrogen Bank, which is backed by EUR 800 million in EU funds. A second auction is planned for spring 2024, with a projected total value of EUR 3 billion.

‘Today’s first EU-wide auction for renewable hydrogen production sends a clear signal that Europe is the place to invest in renewable hydrogen production, and in hydrogen-based industries,’ said Wopke Hoekstra, European Commissioner for Climate Action.

‘Developing a solid hydrogen market in the EU will make us more competitive, offer new growth opportunities to industry and provide quality jobs for European companies and citizens,’ he added.

Building a hydrogen economy is a key mission for the EU. The Commission is keen to engage with the hydrogen industry, through events like European Hydrogen Week, to make it easy to invest in Europe.

‘We are dedicated to creating an ecosystem enabling hydrogen to be produced here in the EU, using domestically manufactured technologies,’ European Commission Executive Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič also told the conference during his keynote speech.

‘Hydrogen will play a key role in the future European economy.’

Bringing stakeholders together to drive EU competitiveness

Bernd Biervert, head of the clean energy transitions unit at the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, said that pooling resources from both industry and the public sector was key to tackling existing challenges and ensuring that the hydrogen economy remains competitive.

Mr Biervert praised the progress made so far through the collaborations between these two groups, emphasising the role of the Clean Hydrogen Partnership in supporting innovation, reducing production costs and increasing the efficiency of hydrogen technology.

‘Fifteen years of partnership has seen some impressive progress,’ he said. ‘The Clean Hydrogen Partnership has managed to raise the combined voice of industry and policymakers.’

A central theme of this year’s conference was the need to continue this collaboration between hydrogen research and industry, and to do so in a way that enables the hydrogen economy to address challenges such as the scale, speed and commercialisation of new technologies.

‘I am convinced that we need to continue working. There are many challenges, and we need to move forward towards the next generation of products,’ said Mirela Atanasiu, Executive Director ad interim of Clean Hydrogen Partnership.

Building on this theme, Melissa Verykios, Clean Hydrogen Partnership’s chair of the governing board, said that it is important to look beyond borders and to adopt a wider approach to drive forward EU competitiveness.

‘Within the Clean Hydrogen Partnership, we have longevity and we are very well-rounded in terms of knowledge. We now need to invest more time and expertise in being more extrovert,’ said Ms Verykios.

Creating synergies at European, national, regional and local levels

To make the journey from European hydrogen research and innovation into global, commercially viable products, it is important to join together all the stakeholders from across the different funding programmes.

‘We need to aggregate all our efforts, all our forces in Europe at local, regional and national level,’ said Sebastien Dubois, head of programme development and communications at the Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking.

Earlier this year, Clean Hydrogen Partnership signed a memorandum of understanding with Clean Aviation JU to establish a strategic cooperation on research and innovation in hydrogen-powered aviation.

In November 2022, the Clean Hydrogen Partnership signed a similar agreement, a letter of intent, with the European Innovation Council and the SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA) on the principles of future collaboration on the development of clean hydrogen technologies.

For Anne-Marie Sassen, head of the programme managers office at the European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency, this type of collaboration serves to broaden the community of stakeholders for the benefit of everyone involved.

‘We want to explore synergies as a way of broadening the community,’ Ms Sassen told delegates at the conference. ‘We really see big advantages in the type of participants and the instruments available to us as we work towards the same goals.’

Expanding Europe’s energy ecosystem with hydrogen valleys

Hydrogen valleys play an increasingly important role producing, importing, transporting, and using clean hydrogen in Europe. They represent a clear departure from dependency on fossil fuels, and offer a way of pooling hydrogen supply, scaling up production and bringing down costs.

‘We see hydrogen as a big part of the energy mix of the future,’ said Johan Hamster, regional minister of energy in Groningen province, the Netherlands.

The Dutch hydrogen valley HEAVENN , co-funded by the Clean Hydrogen Partnership, is one of Europe’s first fully integrated and functioning hydrogen ecosystem.

Mr Hamster also said that in addition to building infrastructure, there was a clear need to raise public awareness and confidence in hydrogen as a fuel of the future.

‘The public has to internalise the need for hydrogen to take the energy transition forward. They need to recognise that there are benefits for them as individuals. People need to continue to feel at home and safe in their surroundings,’ he said. 

Participants representing hydrogen valleys and regions across Europe agreed that regions are now better organised and key players for the development of hydrogen economy ; providing important inputs for the EU hydrogen valleys Roadmap. They highlighted the “triple helix” - supply, demand and innovation, and the importance of working together from early stages - something that the JU has been showcasing.  

Building the hydrogen workforce of the future 

As an event taking place during the 2023 European Year of Skills, it was fitting that an entire session of the High-Level Conference was dedicated to the topic of training the hydrogen workforce.

Collaboration between private partners and knowledge institutions needs to be strengthened, according to Professor Lorenzo Squintani, Director of the Wubbo Ockels School for Energy and Climate at the University of Groningen, home of the Hydrogen Valley Campus Europe.

‘It is important to make this link to empower both the private companies and the public sector,’ Professor Squintani told delegates.

Under the European Commission’s REPowerEU plan the EU is supporting the establishment of large-scale skills partnerships such as the Green Skills for Hydrogen project, which aims to address the existing skills gap and provide the necessary training.

Henning Ehrenstein, head of unit for skills, services and professions in the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, added that technical and vocational skills needed to be considered in addition to higher education programmes. Retraining also needs to be taken into account for the existing skilled workforce.

‘We also need to build retraining on top of skills which already exist, and which might be being impacted by the energy transition,’ he said.

Representing the voice of younger generation at the High-Level Policy Conference was Simran Sinha, an analyst at the Green Hydrogen Organisation, who highlighted the demand for short courses and a diversity of disciplines.

‘The hydrogen value chain needs a diverse skillset,’ Ms Sinha told participants. ‘Not just technology but also policy, project management and communication. These are all really important.’

Celebrating European achievements and innovation

A highlight of European Hydrogen Week was the Clean Hydrogen Partnership Awards 2023, which celebrated projects demonstrating a clean energy success story, technological innovation, project outreach and hydrogen valleys.

Awards in the above categories were presented to HEAVEN for innovations in developing emission-free aviation technology; to StasHH for a success story developing an industry standard for zero-emission heavy-duty transport using hydrogen fuel cells; to the JIVE 2 project for their public outreach work, in particular participation in the Zero Emission Bus conference. Three projects were selected to be awarded as hydrogen valleys of the year: Hydrogen Hub Noord-Holland, in the province of North Holland, the Netherlands, WIVA P&G in Austria, and Green Hysland on Mallorca, Spain.  

Preceding the awards, the EU Hydrogen Research Days took place online on the 15 and 16 November under the umbrella of the Hydrogen Week. The event assessed the progress and achievements in the various pillars of the Clean Hydrogen Partnership and presented the diverse projects portfolio managed by the programme.

The main organisers of the EU Hydrogen Week are Hydrogen Europe, the Clean Hydrogen Partnership and the European Commission. More than 8000 visitors and 250 exhibitors took part in the 2023 edition. The next year’s event will take place on 18-22 November in Brussels Expo.

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Publication date
12 December 2023
Clean Hydrogen Joint Undertaking