Version classiqueVersion mobile

The Haralds of Hydrogen

Floris Jacobus Adrianus de Klerk Wolters

Chapter 1: Introduction

Texte intégral

1 The June 2019 International Energy Agency (IEA) report on the future of hydrogen highlighted the renewed interest in hydrogen as a potential pathway to a zero-carbon future. Since then, many new projects have started and many investment programmes reaching into the billions of euros have been announced, such as an earmarked fund of €9 billion for hydrogen as part of the German government’s COVID-19 recovery effort (Steitz et al., 2020). The Dutch NorthH2 project, revealed in early 2020, is another example of this. It aims for tens of billions of euros to be invested in the world’s largest offshore wind farm, in the North Sea, with a very large hydrogen facility capable of supplying a substantial part of Northwestern Europe (Van Dijk, 2020). Critical questions quickly followed about the financing and the general feasibility of the project (De Boer, 2020). This makes it a good example of the uncertain role for hydrogen in European visions of the energy transition. A growing number of projects are working on green hydrogen, and the project sizes, in terms of megawatt (MW), have increased a lot over the past four decades (IEA, 2019c, p. 45). Simultaneously, global government spending on research & development (R&D) has fallen considerably since the 2000s, including in Europe (IEA, 2019c, p. 20). This raises questions about the support base of the hydrogen economy in Europe. What prompts companies as diverse as for instance Airbus, BP, Enagás, Fincantieri, Linde, Siemens, Škoda, SNCF, and Thyssenkrupp to become members of hydrogen associations? Which economic sectors support the hydrogen economy? Do small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also support it? And where are these companies from? This paper addresses these questions to give a clearer picture of the economic sectors that support the hydrogen economy, and why they do so. The central question is the following:

2Which economic sectors and companies are promoting the hydrogen economy in Europe, and what are their reasons for doing so?

3This is a very relevant question. The momentum for hydrogen comes at a time when policymakers at the subnational, national and supranational level are tasked with reviving their economies in response to the COVID-19 crisis. At the European level, the outlines of a Green Deal with explicit reference to hydrogen were announced in December 2019, just before the COVID-19 crisis began (European Commission, 2019a, 2019b). European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, whose portfolio includes the European Green Deal, sees a pivotal role for hydrogen, and by March 2020 the EU had revealed plans to increase hydrogen investment and launch an EU-wide hydrogen partnership (Fleming & Hollinger, 2020; Keating, 2019; Khan, 2020). Many national policymakers are working on hydrogen too: while German policymakers are still preparing a national hydrogen strategy, France released one in 2018. At the same time, waves of enthusiasm for hydrogen have subsided in the past, and Timmermans also warns that hydrogen is no silver bullet. This leaves analysts and onlookers with the above questions about what can realistically be expected from hydrogen.

4This paper compiles the membership data of 39 hydrogen associations across Europe and classifies 1670 membership entries according to their business activities. These are analysed to identify the economic sectors that are driving the hydrogen economy in Europe. It finds an approximately equally numerous (90-110 registrations) presence of motor vehicle manufacturers, metals manufacturers, chemicals manufacturers, and electricity utility companies, and a slightly less numerous (approx. 50-70) presence of natural gas utility companies and oil and gas companies. There is a larger presence of (electronic and electrical) machinery manufacturers, as well as companies conducting professional, scientific, and technical activities such as engineering, research and development, and testing. However, these companies also appear to be smaller on average. The number of companies interested in hydrogen can be crudely predicted by gross domestic product (GDP). Areas that are relatively well represented include the Iberian Peninsula, and especially a wider North Sea Region that includes the Benelux countries, the Nordics and Germany. Fewer registrations are by entities from Ireland, Italy, Greece, Finland, and Eastern Europe generally – Belarus, Ukraine and Russia combined are the origin of only three entities in total. Notable exceptions of relatively well-represented countries in Central and Eastern Europe include the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Baltic states.

5There are different motivations per sector. Straightforward business growth is the leading motivation for many sectors active in the value chain, but other sectors are also pushed to hydrogen by rising carbon costs in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) and stricter regulations, such as the basic metals (i.e. steel) and chemicals sectors. Other motivations include doubts about the prospects of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), as well as ports and integrated oil and gas companies anticipating a changing role for them in the energy system.

6The paper is structured to first clarify the methodological approach, and then provide some background information about hydrogen and its perceived benefits. This is followed by a brief literature overview on the political economy of hydrogen, and where support might be expected to come from. The core of the paper consists of an analytical part, where an analysis of the geographical background is followed by an analysis of each relevant economic section. These analyses are based on the data and secondary literature research on the motives of these sections’ interest in hydrogen. Some sections are split into several main divisions (e.g. motor vehicles under manufacturing). The makeup of the section/division is discussed, as well as the leading motivations for supporting the hydrogen economy. This is followed by a conclusion.


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search