On 8 February 2022, the Policy Learning Platform held a webinar on Building a regional hydrogen economy. Hydrogen as energy carrier is recognised as important piece in the puzzle of Europe’s energy transition. How it can be produced, stored, distributed, and used by European industry and households is outlined in concepts, but only a few pilots exist at real-life-scale to date.
Regions across Europe are trying to position themselves to become leading players of a future hydrogen economy. They develop strategies, command studies to understand their territorial potential and strengths, ponder how to best support their local companies, and the most advances submit ambitious projects for so-called 'hydrogen valleys' to EU funding.
As well as a presentation from the European Commission, DG Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, on the EU’s ‘hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe’, the webinar also feature regional experiences from partners in the SMART-HY-AWARE and DeCarb projects.
Webinar agenda overview
Concept and moderation by Katharina Krell and Simon Hunkin, Thematic Experts of Low-carbon economy.
00:15:27 Presentation by Henning Ehrenstein on an overview of the EU policy framework for H2, production methods and terminology, the roadmap towards green low-emissions H2 and EU initiatives for regions.
00:45:26 Q&A: Is the action plan available on your website? And was there a traditional coal sector in your region in response to which a Hydrogen Transition Plan was implemented?
00:47:32 Presentation by Governor George Kasapidis on the building blocks of a regional hydrogen economy with national impact.
00:57:29 Q&A: I have seen that there is a lot of renewable energy investment going on in Western Macedonia. Has the region been pro-actively using land-use planning to allocate more sites for renewable energy production?
00:58:58 Q&A: Have you thought about training and qualifying the workforce to they can benefit and not lose out?
01:13:03 Q&A: What types of vans do you use? And are they repurposed?
01:13:31 Q&A: For the maintenance of the vehicles and facilities, do you externalise this or do you train your own staff? And if so, where do you find the know-how for purpose?
00:14:55 Q&A: What is the current and target level of green hydrogen production in Aberdeen?
01:18:41 Q&A: What benefits do you expect for your territory from the implementation of hydrogen strategies? And how would territories miss out if they don't engage in this type of development.
01:26:49 Q&A: Do you believe all regions should take part in the development of hydrogen economy or only certain regions? And if only certain regions, what characteristics should the regions have?
01:32:13 Key take-aways from the speakers
From this webinar, we can highlight some key insights for local and regional policy-makers:
- Hydrogen is expected to be a vital part of our sustainable energy transition. It has a very high density, can be stored, can balance the fluctuations of intermittent renewables, and can be transported over long distances. We seem to be reaching a tipping point with conversion technologies reaching maturity, with significant pledges for demonstration projects. Regional and local authorities need to start moving to place themselves as pioneers, especially those regions already advanced in renewable energy generation;
- Henning Ehrenstein from the European Commission presented the Hydrogen Strategy which was launched in 2020 in the framework of the European Green Deal and Europe’s contribution towards the Paris Agreement. The strategy has set out ambitious targets to support industrial deployment and bring research to market scale. The EU sees an important role for renewable hydrogen, with a focus on hydrogen as an energy carrier to decarbonise otherwise hard to decarbonise industries (cement and steel, for example) and transport modes (shipping, aviation, heavy-duty vehicles);
- The Hydrogen Strategy is accompanied by the creation of the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance (which is open to join, via the website) with six working groups on production, transmission and distribution, industrial applications, mobility, energy and residential applications. The Alliance has established a project pipeline of more than 750 projects, and has also set up a Hydrogen Public Funding Compass to help stakeholders identify funding sources. Next Generation EU, the InvestEU programme, and the ETS Innovation Fund will be key investment instruments;
- ‘Hydrogen valleys‘ – local hydrogen clusters, in remote areas, islands or regional ecosystems – will enable local production of renewable hydrogen based on decentralised renewable energy and short-distance transportation, for use in transport, industry, electricity balancing and heat for residential and commercial buildings. EU-wide logistical infrastructure will need to be developed to transport hydrogen from generation to use sites, and policy will focus on sustained scale-up and investment, including use of the European Structural and Investment Funds;
- Aragon established its Hydrogen Foundation in 2003 as an early mover in the sector, comprised of public administration, associations, energy companies, industry, research, and transport companies, amongst others. The region followed with a Hydrogen Master Plan to promote research and innovation, with 77 projects funded so far (see here the 2016-2020 Master Plan in English, and the 2021-2025 Master Plan in Spanish). Overall, the strategy aims to support industrial transition, strengthen R&D, promote Aragon internationally, and create and attract talent in Aragon by supporting the development of human capital and skills. Ultimately, Aragon is creating a hydrogen valley ‘GetHyGA’ with 78 organisation and 76 planned initiatives.
- Western Macedonia in Greece is a coal transition region with a heavy reliance on its lignite industry, which they plan to phase-out by 2028. The region has chosen to create a Green Hydrogen Valley with a proposal submitted for an Important Project of Common European Interest aiming to invest in the use of renewable energy to produce green hydrogen by electrolysis, which will then be stored directly and indirectly, ultimately providing electricity to country’s grid. In this way, it will retain its role as a central energy region while contributing to the energy transition;
- In Scotland (UK), the devolved government is keen to support the development of hydrogen, recognising that it could contribute some 25billion GBP to the economy annually and create hundreds of thousands of new sustainable jobs. The City of Aberdeen, on the west coast, has large advantages in the hydrogen economy, benefitting from existing high-skill workers and expertise in oil and gas and offshore wind. Within the HyTrec project (Interreg North Sea Region), the city developed a Hydrogen Strategy and Action Plan for 2015-2025. So far 35 Million GBP have been invested into projects, including the acquisition of 85 hydrogen-powered vehicles, including buses, municipal service vehicles and (upcoming) cargo bikes. The Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub is one of the newest ventures, to deploy hydrogen at a larger scale and ultimately become a hydrogen exporter. The Hub will be built by BP including a solar array, green hydrogen production facility, and refuelling infrastructure for public vehicles;
- Participants emphasised the importance of regions in the hydrogen economy. Whilst frameworks can be set at the European level, implementation is at the regional level, with new clusters and initiatives forming. Discussions mentioned that regions should focus on what they are strong at, with hydrogen production not being suitable for all regions, but rather based in those with existing resources, skills and industries;
- Speakers emphasised the employment creation potential of the emerging hydrogen economy, which can offer industrial job for high-skilled experts and blue collar workers alike through direct and indirect employment creation. In this perspective training and re-skilling programmes are of high importance, especially in the context of coal-region transition and industrial decline;
- Erwin Siweris, Director of the Interreg Europe programme presented the programme and its interregional policy learning services. The new programme will cover six topics (smart, green, connected, social, citizens and governance), but with a single priority of capacity building. The programme looks to improve regional development policy instruments through exchange of experience and innovative approaches. Projects and the Policy Learning Platform will be available for regions looking to develop their hydrogen industry. Find out more about the future programme here;
- Public authorities should take advantage of opportunities to learn from other regions which have already begun to develop hydrogen industries, through Interreg Europe projects and the Policy Learning Platform which can offer on-demand expert support through peer reviews and matchmakings.