2020 has witnessed growing interest for the tiniest and lightest atom: hydrogen. Hydrogen technologies and uses have found their way in European Recovery Plans, and hydrogen strategies are at the heart of many Member States’ decarbonation path.
Why is it the right time?
In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, our top priority is to get back on our feet swiftly. Indubitably, bouncing back will require fortitude and innovation. It also requires that we invest, already now, in our future – and that we have a clear idea of the future we call for. We want to come out of the crisis stronger, cleaner and fairer.
We need a more competitive economy. The Covid-19 crisis proved that we depend too heavily on imports in certain market segments. It can undermine our ability to address major societal issues by our own means, such as protecting the health of our citizens, disposing of the means to defend ourselves, or securing our ability to undertake the green transition. We should not rely on massive equipment imports to decarbonize our economy – unlike what we previously did with photovoltaic panels.
I believe in breakthrough technologies as a leverage to deepen our economic sovereignty.
In Europe, we have made a commitment to tackle climate and environmental-related challenges. We have already started to modernize and transform the economy with the aim of reaching climate neutrality by 2050. We have agreed on a 55% GHG emissions reduction intermediary target for 2030. We now need to accelerate the pace on environmental issues. We should move swiftly to give momentum to our stimulus plans and foster new investments in clean technologies.
The economic crisis is also an opportunity for us to rethink our economic model and the kind of society we call for. Beyond the question of sovereignty, relocation of industrial production is also a matter of preserving jobs in our regions. We have the expertise and the talents required in Europe to develop new technologies; we need to invest in them. Massive public intervention and support will provide the right impetus for businesses to move forward.
Why should we support hydrogen?
Decarbonised hydrogen technologies support all three goals. They offer the opportunity to create, on the European soil, an industrial ecosystem key to the continent’s future economic sovereignty. They contribute to shape a competitive and fair economy: we expect the hydrogen sector will create 50 000 to 150 000 direct and indirect jobs in France over the next ten years. Decarbonised hydrogen technologies also give us tools to tackle the great challenge of the 21st century: the decarbonation of our economies.
In France, we have set for ourselves a clear, unifying goal: to launch a green hydrogen aircraft by 2035. I trust it can be reached. However, applications for hydrogen technologies are manifold.
Hydrogen is an alternative to fossil fuels for vehicles (terrestrial, airborne, waterborne), and hydrogen technologies can be seen as complementary to the battery technology. Hydrogen can also be used as a feedstock for industries, such as refining, ammonia or steel making. Eventually, hydrogen could also serve as energy storage and facilitate the integration of renewable energy in our electricity mixes.
It is now up to public authorities to share the risks with researchers and industrialists in order to come up with new and innovative solutions. I am convinced that the EU has the potential to place itself at the forefront of the innovation race for the development of hydrogen technologies and its uses, but we need massive investments for that. In France, we have earmarked EUR 7 bn for the decarbonisation of hydrogen production and the design of a hydrogen industry. EUR 2 bn of them are to be invested in 2021 and 2022 already, in the frame of our stimulus plan “France Relance”.
Why should we have a European approach?
This battle must be fought together with our European partners, in order to compete with the American and Chinese powers, which can rely on substantial domestic markets and a single leadership. The European Single Market is a powerful asset to establish a competitive economic area and attract necessary investments. But we need investments on a scale that no single Member States can match.
I was very proud to sign, on December 17th and along with 22 other Member States, the Manifesto on Hydrogen. We agreed to work on large-scale joint investment projects in order to support the development and deployment of hydrogen technologies and systems, and to grasp the possibility to shape together an Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) that would support the rise of our industries in hydrogen technologies throughout the value chain.
The IPCEI is a unique opportunity for Member States to coordinate their efforts to foster both economic investments and the green transition, and share the benefits of their cooperation.
Yet this is only the beginning of the hydrogen path. The IPCEI scheme must be complemented by an ambitious European industrial strategy, a long-term framework for supercharging the twin green and digital transition and reinforcing industrial value chains for technologies key to our strategic autonomy. I stand ready to implement it together with our European partners.