Policy Brief
Five reflections on clean hydrogen’s contribution to European industrial decarbonisation from 2024 to 2030
22 February 2024
BY: CORNILLIE Jan, James Kneebone, Ilaria Conti, Jos Delbeke
After years of record announcements, frantic policy development and the establishment of substantial public support mechanisms, the clean hydrogen sector is nearing an inflexion point. Many clean hydrogen projects have reached the technical feasibility stage, with a global pipeline of clean hydrogen projects totalling nearly 25 million tonnes (Mt) of production by 2030, much of which is in Europe. However, only 4% of those projects reached financial investment decision (FID) in 2023. This rate is already twice as high as in 2022, but still very marginal given global hydrogen demand needs to grow from 95Mt to 150Mt by 2030 to stay on track for net-zero by 2050. The key question for the coming months is: how can a critical mass of the remaining clean hydrogen projects secure financing before momentum is lost? As it stands, production project financing in Europe is likely to come through either a bilateral deal with an off-taker willing to pay a premium for a decarbonised product or via selection in one of the European auctions or wider public support mechanisms. If financing can be secured, we might see the beginning of new technological cycles rooted in clean hydrogen path dependencies within key industries. This in turn could establish the basis for the birth of a wider clean hydrogen market, driving economies of scale and ultimately facilitating deep decarbonisation of the European economy, stimulating some new manufacturing sectors in the process. However, if this first wave of projects fails to secure investment, confidence is likely to falter, and the momentum lost. Clean hydrogen has been positioned as a potential technological vehicle for industrial transformation and as a future pillar of European energy security. Record low costs of solar and wind technology have added to an expectation that a similar learning curve could materialise for electrolysers and other clean hydrogen technologies. Cheap clean hydrogen would take the energy transition where electrification finds it hard to go. However, high interest rates and a fall in gas prices after the 2022 summer peak have led to a cool-off in expectations for fast, large-scale deployment. In this Policy Brief, we give a snapshot of the state of play for the sector, complemented by learnings from the High-Level Policy Dialogue (HLPD) hosted by the EUI’s Florence School of Transnational Governance and the Florence School of Regulation on October 19, 2023.
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