‘EU at a crossroads’ | Europe needs speed to keep up global hydrogen leadership: study

The EU has the clear potential to rise into a position of global leadership in the emerging hydrogen economy while boosting the sector’s contribution to accelerating the bloc’s climate and energy security agenda, a new study from Harvard has concluded.

But the report, published by the university’s public policy division, the Harvard Kennedy School, warned that to do so, the EU now needed to “quickly define and implement a cohesive long-term strategy” for developing competitive and secure hydrogen markets in the region.

“While hydrogen has been a staple in the energy and chemical industries for decades, renewable hydrogen is now enjoying unprecedented political and business momentum as a versatile and sustainable energy carrier that could be the missing piece in the carbon-free energy puzzle,” said the report’s authors, Alejandro Nuñez-Jimenez and Nicola De Blasio, from the school’s Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs.

“Today, [Europe] is no doubt at the forefront of the global hydrogen race. But to maintain its leadership, the EU needs to quickly define and implement a cohesive long-term strategy for developing competitive and secure hydrogen markets.

“While success is possible, this transformational effort will require close coordination between policy, technology, capital, and society to avoid falling into the traps and inefficiencies of the past.”

The report argues that “only by working together” can the EU properly accelerate the uptake of a hydrogen economy in member states.

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“Our prior work on renewable hydrogen’s global geopolitical and market implications shows that while some resource-rich member states, like Spain, can evolve into regional exporters, no member state can become a global export champion.

The study also flags the “significant” role regional partners such as Morocco might grow to have in EU hydrogen markets in the future.

Among the key questions raised by the report, said the authors, were: “What would it require to become hydrogen independent? Where should production be located for cost-competitive supplies? What is the enabling infrastructure that needs to be developed and deployed at scale?”

The EU is targeting carbon neutrality by 2050 with renewable hydrogen playing an increasingly central part in the bloc achieving its energy transition ambitions, with a strategy published in July 2020 that set electrolyser deployment targets to 2030 and scoped-out development of an open and competitive EU hydrogen market.

“The strategy forecasts that renewable hydrogen will reach maturity and be deployed at scale in all hard-to-decarbonise sectors by 2050 but sets no targets beyond 2030 and provides few details on how the EU could meet this hydrogen demand,” said the authors.

“The EU stands at a crossroads. Today, it is no doubt at the forefront of the global hydrogen race. But to maintain its leadership, the EU needs to quickly define and implement a cohesive long-term strategy for developing competitive and secure hydrogen markets.”

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