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Across Europe, a growing number of companies and investors are turning to renewable hydrogen as the missing link to fully decarbonize

By Elana Knopp, Senior Content Writer, Edison Energy

In this first of a two-part series, Edison Energy recently sat down with François Paquet, Impact Director at the Renewable Hydrogen Coalition (RHC), to discuss the massive potential that renewable hydrogen holds to decarbonize countries across Europe. Paquet, who drives RHC’s advocacy outreach, has years of experience in EU Public Affairs, industry interest representation, and EU association management in Brussels. His areas of expertise include energy, climate change, resource efficiency, and circular economies.

Part 1

Renewable hydrogen, which is produced from renewable electricity sources like wind and solar, will be key to reaching carbon neutrality in Europe, particularly in energy-intensive industries and hard to decarbonize sectors like aviation and shipping.

This is according to the Renewable Hydrogen Coalition (RHC), an interdisciplinary network of start-ups, investors, entrepreneurs, companies, and industrial off-takers dedicated to making Europe the global leader in renewable hydrogen solutions. The Coalition was established in late 2020 by SolarPower Europe and WindEurope, with support from Breakthrough Energy.

Renewable hydrogen has seen renewed and rapidly growing attention both in Europe and globally, primarily due to its versatile uses and potential applications across industry, transport, and power, according to the EU Commission.

Notably, the EU Commission’s Hydrogen Strategy, released in 2020, cited renewable hydrogen as the most compatible solution to support the EU’s commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and to implement the Paris Agreement. Yet today, renewable hydrogen still represents a modest fraction of the global and EU energy mix and is primarily produced from fossil fuels like natural gas and coal. This has resulted in an annual release of 70 to 100 million tonnes of CO2 across Europe.

“Last year was really about bringing a voice to this sector,” said François Paquet, Impact Director at the RHC. “That means working with the companies that are our supporters–Altenex Energy, electrolyzer manufacturers, renewable energy suppliers–but also the end users. The whole value chain speaks with one voice to really shape the debate on how we’re going to kickstart the renewable hydrogen economy with the idea that it should be Europe, which is already well advanced in building a fully fleshed regulatory framework.”

Last year, the RHC released a Policy Charter, which lays out the necessary policy foundations to enable the scaling up and market uptake of renewable hydrogen.

The Charter calls for the establishment of lead markets via a full value chain approach, identifying priority sectors to form the bulk of Europe’s future demand for renewable hydrogen and derived e-fuels, with a focus on existing hydrogen users and hard-to-electrify sectors such as heavy industry and energy-intensive transport.

With renewable electricity being the “raw material” of renewable hydrogen, the RHC is advocating for the massive deployment of additional renewable electricity capacity, for Europe’s power grids to be strengthened and modernized, and for accelerated and more streamlined permitting processes. In addition, the Coalition is pushing for all-size renewable hydrogen projects to be supported to enable the creation of jobs and new business models locally.

The need for infrastructure will also increase as the hydrogen economy develops and volume grows. This will require dedicated storage and transport infrastructure, with careful consideration given to repurposing or extending existing natural gas infrastructure for hydrogen to avoid stranded assets and carbon lock-in.

Critically, the Coalition says support mechanisms must be introduced to accelerate the uptake of renewable hydrogen, also advocating for research, innovation, and pilot projects to develop the next generation of renewable hydrogen technologies.

“The Policy Charter federated the whole industry around a clear vision for how to make Europe the global player in this new market,” Paquet said. “We in this coalition want to be the doers, the ones who grasp this new market opportunity, but also bring a key solution to the biggest challenge humanity is facing, which is climate change. We already use hydrogen today and these sectors can easily move from fossil-based hydrogen production to renewable-based hydrogen production. We already have the demand and the technology.”

To enable a viable regulatory framework, Paquet says a clear and consistent definition of renewable hydrogen will be needed. This will mean establishing that renewable hydrogen is produced via water electrolysis using renewable electricity, with flexible rules for the sourcing of renewable electricity from the grid.

The RHC is pushing for this definition to be applied consistently across EU legislation, end-use sectors, and hydrogen imports to ensure traceability, provide investors with clarity, and enable the development of support mechanisms.

“We are the first to take such a value chain perspective,” Paquet said. “It is so important to reconcile demand and supply, to create the business case when you don’t have it yet. Let’s not forget that the renewable hydrogen market does not exist yet–we need to create everything from scratch. This is a completely new market, so we need to create everything from policy to market and make sure that we have support instruments so that the cost is reduced and end-use sectors can make the switch to renewable hydrogen as quickly as possible.”

Click here to read the second part of our conversation with François.