Hydrogen today represents a tiny part of European energy consumption. The Commission sees this share rise to 14% in 2050, in its “clean” form.
A solution for the European energy transition? Brussels unveiled a development plan for “clean” hydrogen in the European Union on Wednesday 8 July, with the aim of decarbonising the most polluting sectors such as the steel and transport industries, in the race towards climate neutrality in 2050.
>> Energy transition: will the future run on hydrogen?
“This is the key to a strong, competitive and carbon-free European economy”, assured the Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, at a press conference. For the Commission, “clean” hydrogen should help sectors that are struggling to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. It involves replacing fossil fuels in industry, in particular for the production of steel, using it as fuel for air and sea transport, heavy goods vehicles, but also for batteries.
It has made it a priority investment for the transition and revival of its economy after the crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. The energy sector is currently responsible for 75% of EU greenhouse gas emissions.
Current production and consumption of hydrogen in the EU amounts to 9.8 million tonnes, largely from fossil fuels. Or a tiny part of European energy consumption, but which the Commission sees rising to 14% in 2050 in its “clean” form (produced by electrolysis of water with electricity from renewable sources).
Initially, the Commission wishes to support the installation of 6 gigawatts (GW) of renewable hydrogen electrolysers, and a production of up to one million tonnes of renewable hydrogen, before a gradual increase for large-scale development scale between 2030 and 2050.
We are the world leaders in this technology and we want to stay ahead but we have to make an extra effort (…) because the rest of the world is catching up with us quickly.
Within the EU, Germany announced in early June a massive investment of 9 billion euros, with the ambition to become the “supplier and producer number 1” of hydrogen around the world. France will devote 1.5 billion euros over three years to “achieve a carbon neutral aircraft in 2035”.
Clean hydrogen must also participate in the establishment of a better integrated energy system in Europe – an objective which has also been the subject of a new “strategy” published Wednesday. Commission wants to develop more system “circular”, focused on energy efficiency and electrification. For example, by reusing waste heat from industrial sites or data centers, or by accelerating the transition to electric vehicles.
For the NGO Transport & Environment, “The EU is right to give priority to hydrogen in transport where there is no alternative to decarbonize”. But, like other environmentalists, she is worried about the role of gas.
The European Commission estimates that in the first years, a “transition period” will be necessary to ensure stable production and competitive prices, during which other hydrogen production processes, carbon emitters, will be maintained but mitigated by carbon capture techniques.