In this interview, Birgit Honé (DE/PES), Minister for Federal and European Affairs and Regional Development of Lower Saxony, answers four questions on clean hydrogen, a key energy source to achieve climate neutrality in the EU. Minister Birgit Honé is the rapporteur of the opinion ‘Roadmap on Clean Hydrogen – the contribution of local and regional authorities to a climate neutral Europe’, which is due to be adopted at the plenary session on 1 and 2 July in conjunction with a high-level debate on the European Green Deal.
You are the CoR rapporteur for the clean hydrogen dossier: can you tell us why this issue is important?
The CoR supports the European Green Deal with the aim of achieving climate neutrality in the EU by 2050. How do we plan to reach that goal? We need to promote many different solutions based on renewable energy. Clean hydrogen and derived synthetic feedstocks and fuels will play a critical role in this and now need specific support.
To really contribute to the achievement of climate neutrality, we need to focus on so-called green hydrogen, or hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources. Green hydrogen gives us a route to climate-neutral growth cross-sectorally in those areas where hydrogen is already used as a raw material or where energy efficiency measures and direct electrification are not viable solutions This includes for instance energy-intensive industry, heavy-duty and long-distance transport, and seasonal electricity storage.
I see the necessary recovery from the COVID-19 crisis as a great opportunity to further develop this important aspect of the European Green Deal. It is right and important for Frans Timmermans as executive vice-president of the European Commission to follow this course, and for the revised proposal for the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework, with its recovery plan, to accommodate more investment in clean hydrogen. The European Parliament and the Council should now keep these options on the table in the legislative process.
Why are you calling for an EU hydrogen strategy?
In the CoR opinion, we call for an EU hydrogen strategy with a focus on green hydrogen so that through a joined-up approach we can rapidly build a European hydrogen economy with a functioning single market for hydrogen and support hydrogen regions in Europe. An EU hydrogen strategy can address issues that are best solved at EU level. I see this in particular in Germany, where the National Hydrogen Strategy has been recently presented, and in my Land of Lower-Saxony, where we are developing a regional hydrogen strategy.
I am extremely pleased that the European Commission is anticipating this key recommendation of the CoR opinion with the announcement that it will adopt an EU hydrogen strategy with a roadmap of measures in early July. I hope that the issue will now gain momentum at EU level under the German presidency of the EU Council. The European Commission already set up an EU Clean Hydrogen Alliance, similar to the European Battery Alliance, back in March.
The EU Hydrogen Strategy is an opportunity for an EU-wide vision to specifically promote green hydrogen for 2030 and 2050 in the future energy mix and economic system. The strategy could contribute to EU-wide coordination of supply, demand and infrastructure development, and of regulatory activities at the level of the EU, the Member States and regions. It should therefore include a roadmap that incorporates the recommendations of the CoR opinion.
Your ministerial portfolio includes not just European affairs, but also regional development in your Land of Lower Saxony. What opportunities do you see in green hydrogen for Europe’s regions?
Development of green hydrogen is already a key issue for many regions in the EU – also in my region, the ‘wind energy’ Land of Lower Saxony. There is a lot of involvement in project partnerships in Lower Saxony, including INTERREG projects with partners from the Netherlands. The region obviously supports these processes.
Green hydrogen offers an opportunity to grow a more sustainable, competitive and resilient economy. With green hydrogen, we can promote regional climate change mitigation efforts while at the same time supporting regional development. Key parts of the value chain can be developed in the regions, with positive impacts on regional innovation and employment. Some 30 regions in the EU are already cooperating in the European Hydrogen Valleys Partnership. Many European regions are developing their own hydrogen strategies, funding programmes and green hydrogen projects. With a view to the integrated development of regional value chains and sector coupling with industrial clusters, regions can play an important networking role here between business, science and government. So regions are indispensable partners for the EU in the market development of green hydrogen.
What exactly do you expect from an EU hydrogen strategy?
In the CoR opinion we set out a wide range of specific legislative and non-legislative measures, which in our view should be part of the integrated roadmap for an EU hydrogen strategy. We have identified five priorities:
- Strengthening EU-wide demand and production. We need targets for green hydrogen generation capacity in the EU, combined with a significant increase in electricity production from wind, solar and water. To this end, the EU must promote lead markets for green hydrogen technologies. The Carbon Contracts for Difference mechanism should be further explored.
- A supportive EU legal framework for market development and infrastructure. An EU-wide sustainability classification for hydrogen is crucial. We need sectoral integration to properly incorporate the hydrogen market in the electricity and gas markets, with a revision of the relevant EU legislation on renewable energy, the gas market, and the trans-European energy and transport networks.
- Support through investment, taxation and state aid. A legal framework is needed, e.g. for setting up large publicly funded projects (so-called IPCEI projects); EU energy taxation must be revised; and EU support is required, e.g. through the Innovation Fund, the Investment EU programme, and the post-COVID-19 recovery plan.
- Promotion of research, innovation and education, e.g. by launching a European Clean Hydrogen Partnership and through the new EU skills pact that has been announced.
Finally, the EU must look at building regional value chains and clusters. Regions must be able to participate in initiatives such as the EU Clean Hydrogen Alliance and the European partnership for clean hydrogen.