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The Haralds of Hydrogen

Floris Jacobus Adrianus de Klerk Wolters

Chapter 14: Conclusion

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1This paper has looked at 39 hydrogen associations across Europe to understand which economic sectors support the hydrogen transition in Europe, and why they do so. In direct response to the first part of the question, many sectors support the hydrogen transition. These include manufacturers of motor vehicles, chemicals, (electronic and electrical) machinery, electricity and gas companies, companies active in transport and storage (incl. ports), various oil and gas companies, as well companies engaged in professional, scientific, and technical activities. Particularly strong supporters are large natural gas utilities, large manufacturers of chemicals, lorry and bus makers, specifically Toyota and Hyundai from the motor vehicle manufacturers, and SMEs active in professional, scientific and technical activities as well as in manufacturing machinery and electronic or electrical equipment. Previous research on specific geographic clusters for hydrogen activity can largely be confirmed. The North Sea Region in particular is home to many major clusters, notably North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany, but also southern Scandinavia and Benelux. Another well-performing region is the Iberian Peninsula, notably Aragon. Eastern European countries, including Russia and Ukraine, are severely underrepresented, as are Italy and Greece.

2 Motivations for support differ. Sales and market growth are important for companies undertaking professional, scientific and technical activities, as well as manufacturers of chemicals, machinery and electronic or electrical equipment, and fabricated metals. The increasing cost of CO2 through the ETS (particularly in 2018-19) combines with regulatory and societal pressure to decarbonise, and concerns from investors about the long-term profitability of sectors with high emissions. This makes hydrogen especially interesting for companies working in the energy, transport, steel and chemical industries. Another motivation is the ability to keep using existing facilities, relevant for ports, oil and gas companies, and natural gas utility companies. More sector-specific concerns are a technological belief held by some motor vehicle manufacturers in the advantages of FCVs over BEVs for private mobility, which is held more widely with regard to heavy road transport. Security of supply and diversifying the current business portfolio come up specifically for natural gas utility companies. Broader concerns about having to shift into other energy technologies as core business are reasons for interest from the oil and gas sector, and ports.

3 At the same time, it is not that clear whether all do as they say. In the oil and gas sector in particular, actual investments seem relatively minor, both in absolute and relative terms. Electricity utility companies and many European carmakers also seem to have limited interest or are hesitant to commit actual funding. Reasons for this in the mobility sector are particularly concerns about energy efficiency and the lack of infrastructure, while electricity companies appear relatively uninterested in hydrogen to cope with the intermittency of renewables, and mostly see hydrogen as input for hard-to-abate industrial sectors.

4There are several broader conclusions that can be drawn from this paper. A key takeaway is that there is a very broad spectrum of economic actors that have clear interests in the success of the hydrogen transition. Another important message is that many high-emission sectors take the cost of carbon emissions seriously and can be counted on to support the hydrogen transition because of this. However, falling carbon emission costs due to the COVID-19 crisis could undermine this motivation, which is a realistic prospect without policy intervention. This introduces the last, and perhaps most important lesson: the hydrogen transition has begun, but needs continued policy support. Carbon intensive industries such as the steel and chemicals industry are clearly interested but need policy support to avoid carbon leakages if they commit. The gas grid is ready, and many operators and utility companies are eager, but they need clearance to experiment with blending in hydrogen. There are several clusters that can serve as models and nuclei for the future European hydrogen economy, but they will need public funding. The hydrogen coalitions now need governments to take the driver’s seat.


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