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As the climate crisis looms and the clean energy transition accelerates, demand for alternative fuels and green energy continues to grow. Hydrogen, as a potential low-carbon energy source for the transportation, industrial, and buildings sectors, as well as an effective medium for energy storage, offers an opportunity for decarbonization across the economy. As a major component of the European Green Deal, the European Commission has committed both political and economic capital to hydrogen energy solutions in its ambitious plan to become the world’s first carbon-neutral continent. And across the Atlantic, public and private actors across the United States are working diligently to accelerate the hydrogen revolution through entrepreneurship and targeted investment.
On top of both climate and environmental advantages, a win for hydrogen would create jobs at a time when the coronavirus pandemic and related lockdowns have shocked economies and left millions unemployed. As a promising technology with high growth potential across a suite of applications, hydrogen could help jumpstart national job markets in duress. How might the Transatlantic community—private, public, and civil society actors alike—work together to mainstream hydrogen technology and achieve carbon neutrality and greater decarbonization? What policies are needed to accelerate this transition? And what role can the hydrogen revolution play in spurring economic and job growth as nations recover from the current crisis?
On July 20, 2020, the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center hosted an engaging panel discussion on the transatlantic opportunity for developing a hydrogen economy amid the post-pandemic clean energy recovery. This panel featured Michael Berube, acting deputy assistant secretary for transportation at the US Department of Energy, Christian Bruch, president and chief executive officer at Siemens Energy, Tom Linebarger, chairman and chief executive officer at Cummins, and Paula Abreu Marques, head of the renewables and carbon capture and storage policy unit at the European Commission. Randolph Bell, director of the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.
The aim of this discussion was to understand how the transatlantic community can collaborate to advance hydrogen technology and achieve carbon neutrality. Marques began the conversation by highlighting the European Commission’s hydrogen strategy. Marques noted that the development of green hydrogen is fundamental to the Commission’s goal of energy system integration as well as its aims to ramp up electrification and increase energy efficiency. Hydrogen provides flexibility, storage solutions, and enables greater renewable grid integration. The European Commission has also launched the Clean Hydrogen Alliance to encourage collaboration across Member States, industry, and civil society in order to create an investment pipeline of projects along the hydrogen value chain.
Berube offered insight into the hydrogen developments in the United States. The US Department of Energy (DOE) focuses on two key roles for hydrogen: decarbonizing more fossil-dependent components of the transportation sector like heavy-duty trucking, and serving as an integrating energy source to bolster renewables through increased energy storage. The DOE has committed $100 million for hydrogen-related research, building upon two decades of robust research and development (R&D). The DOE has recently announced a hydrogen initiative that will employ US national laboratories to advance hydrogen R&D, but Berube points out that cooperation with industry will also be necessary to propel these technologies ahead.
Bruch and Linebarger provided a global industry perspective on the state of hydrogen technology. Bruch noted that Siemens Energy plays two distinct parts in hydrogen development. First, Siemens Energy is present across the entire hydrogen production value chain, and second, the company plays an important role in providing electricity generation technology and helping customers transition to a more sustainable energy, like hydrogen, when possible. Linebarger explained how Cummins, a company with a long history in diesel power solutions, is innovating to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Cummins has made several significant investments in hydrogen in Europe, with the understanding that the company and its equipment will evolve over the next few decades to effectively combat climate change. Linebarger pointed out that while hydrogen fuel cells are not at the same level of development as diesel-based technology, they are often already ready to serve in commercial-industrial applications today.
Panelists then discussed transatlantic opportunities to accelerate hydrogen development and deployment. Marques emphasized that to scale up hydrogen, countries will need to enhance partnerships with other regions, as international cooperation will be necessary to grow interest in hydrogen technologies at a global level. Berube added that the International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy (IPHE) is very active globally, and is doing important work on safety, codes, and regulation standards. All panelists agreed that establishing these standards is extremely important when a new, budding energy industry like hydrogen emerges. Linebarger elaborated that the success of accelerating deployment hinges on increasing volume and scaling up production to become cost-competitive. Therefore, hydrogen requires investment in infrastructure, greater R&D, and deployment incentives to bring down the cost curve. Further, he added that countries must coordinate their efforts for these investments to be efficient and scalable.
To conclude, panelists responded to important questions from audience members who sought to better understand how investment can help speed up the expansion of hydrogen in the economy. Linebarger affirmed that while most of the capital can come from the private sector, governments must provide the initial incentive and establish a top-level hydrogen vision. With proper guidance on how the economy will be structured for hydrogen in a region, companies can make productive investments in infrastructure to accelerate the hydrogen revolution.
A conversation with
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation
US Department of Energy, Office of Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency
President & Chief Executive Officer
Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
Paula Abreu Marques
Head of Unit, Renewables and Carbon Capture, and Storage Policy
European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy
Director, Global Energy Center
Richard Morningstar Chair for Global Energy Security
Tue, May 26, 2020
Transatlantic cooperation is essential to European energy security, which is and should remain a key national security priority for the United States. European energy security is crucial for the maintenance of a strong European economy and for European political stability, both of which are in the best interests of the United States. This report recommends that the United States and the EU focus their energy cooperation in several areas that will benefit the EU’s efforts to meet climate targets and that, at the same time, will also bolster energy security.
Thu, Jun 25, 2020
On March 10, 2020, as COVID-19 enveloped Europe and the Americas, European Commission (EC) President Ursula van der Leyen declared clean hydrogen energy “a pillar” of the European Union (EU)’s new industrial strategy. Van der Leyen identified the “Green Transition” as a key driver of the strategy, the EU’s blueprint for growth and global competitiveness. While COVID-19 will likely have significant effects on hydrogen’s success in Europe, hydrogen has nevertheless become a top EC energy priority. Even amid a global pandemic, it is likely to stay that way thanks to the EC’s progressive policymaking.
Tue, Apr 14, 2020
Hydrogen technology represents a promising, multifaceted pathway that could offer many industries a new strategy for navigating the transition to net zero emissions. However, the current cost of deployment seems to be the biggest obstacle for widespread adoption.
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