Policymakers and industry experts discussed key challenges and opportunities amid Europe’s push for hydrogen in reshaping the continent’s energy landscape during today’s 2nd Budapest Hydrogen Summit.
The conference kicked off with an opening speech from Hungary’s Viktor Horváth, Deputy State Secretary for Energy and Climate at the Ministry of Energy. “The most important goal for ourselves for the coming year is to set up the basis for the hydrogen economy,” the Deputy State Secretary said.
During a keynote speech on the emerging role of hydrogen in Europe’s green transition, Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, CEO of Hydrogen Europe noted the recent progress made in regulatory and political spheres for hydrogen and further steps needed going forward.
Turning to the conference’s first panel discussion, energy leaders discussed the challenges and opportunities ahead for the developing hydrogen value chain. “We believe it is far more important to focus on objectives – reducing emissions for societies – rather than the colour of hydrogen,” said Yelda Guven, Policy VP at ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions. Ms Guven urged European policymakers to enable the development of all forms of hydrogen, not merely green hydrogen and emphasised the importance of a strong regulatory framework.
How do you evolve the energy transition to allow long-term energy security? asked Najla Al Jamali, Alternative Energy Chief Executive at OQ Oman – “that’s where green hydrogen can step in if you’re looking for a completely green solution,” she said. However, she underlined that it is “a journey” in which other colours of hydrogen have a role to play.
“The only thing missing is a regulatory framework and stable investment conditions,” reiterated Ralph Bahke, Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE) Hydrogen Area Sponsor and Managing Director at ONTRAS.
Providing country-specific insights, Ákos Hegedüs, Managing Director at Linde Gas Hungary said that Hungary currently solely consists of grey hydrogen production. “I believe there will be a mix,” he said regarding the future colour shape of Hungary’s and Europe’s hydrogen landscape.
Moving to a debate on the key elements of the hydrogen value chain, experts and industry representatives assessed the potential of repurposing existing gas infrastructure for transport and storage purposes.
Kicking off the discussion, Szabolcs I. Ferencz, Chairman-CEO of FGSZ put forward a question on why the hydrogen market is underperforming. The negative answer is to “further raise the targets.” According to Mr Ferencz, there are excessive deliberations on the European level on hydrogen’s future, for example on the role of TSOs, coupled with overambitious hydrogen targets, which hinder the market’s growth – “Europe, as we see, is still better at production regulations, than actually producing hydrogen,” he underlined.
Looking at the recent changes, Milan Sedlacek, Head of EU Affairs and Strategy at Eustream Slovakia, highlighted that the perception of hydrogen is among those changes, along with a positive change in the direction of legislation and regulations. However, we need more pragmatic objectives.
Ákos Kriston, CEO of Hungarian Gas Storage informed that the construction phase of the Aquamarine project has just been completed. Currently, the commissioning of main and auxiliary equipment, functional tests and final tightness tests before the operation are underway. The expected date of hydrogen production is the end of April with a test phase running until the end of July. He also mentioned the ongoing agreement for joining MVM Partner’s balancing centre.
Ion Sterian, Director General at Transgaz Romania emphasised the lack of a clear legal framework and its impact on the growing hydrogen industry, from the perspective of a TSO – “We need a legal frame, without legislation we cannot do anything.” Similarly to Mr Ferencz, Mr Sterian added that debates on the overall shape of the industry should have already been finalised.
In a keynote speech, Oleksandr Diachenko, Vice-President of the Ukrainian Hydrogen Council shared his insights into his country’s potential in hydrogen. “If we talk about repower of Europe, we need to talk about repowering Ukraine,” he said.
Looking to the South of Europe, Constantinos Papalucas, Coordinator of the Greek National Hydrogen Committee and Managing Director of EastMed Energy Hub presented a keynote speech on the growing Greek hydrogen value chain. “It is important for us to help the local community to adapt to the new realities and hydrogen can be a good driver for this change,” he said. As part of his presentation, Mr Papalucas presented a short, medium and long-term road map for developing a hydrogen economy, based on the Greek experience.
“We have moved from kilowatts to megawatts,” said Tudor Constantinescu, Principal Adviser at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy, regarding the EU’s measures in recent years aimed at establishing a hydrogen market. According to him, the financing sphere “looks fragmented,” however it is not always possible to put it together due to external changes like the invasion of Ukraine and the REPowerEU package as a response measure.
Subsequently, Péter Horváth, CEO of Met Group’s Dunamenti Power Plant, presented his analysis using the Leibereich clean hydrogen ladder, which provided a deeper look into the complexities and practical challenges of hydrogen technologies. More broadly, the CEO of Dunamenti Power Plant urged to “start small and scale up” as putting too many restrictions on this industry may discourage private investors, he underlined.
Looking deeper into actors involved in Hungary’s hydrogen sector, Andreas Noky, Project Manager at Clean Hydrogen Messer SE & Co. KGaA presented an overview of the four pillars of Hungary’s national hydrogen strategy and Messer’s support in those four key pillars, particularly in delivering the green transition in the public transport. “When it comes to transportation, we are in a very good position to support the transition”, he said. “Keep in mind, the goal must be green. Full stop,” added Mr Noky regarding the colour(s) of hydrogen the industry should prioritise going forward.
Subsequently, a panel discussion on hydrogen mobility saw experts discuss the prospects for utilising hydrogen in a decarbonised transport sector. Gáspár Balázs, the CEO of Alstom Hungary, emphasised that the use of hydrogen in railways supports the green transition. He welcomed the fact that Hungary is starting to deploy hydrogen on railways, as the Hungarian railway company, MÁV-Start is currently preparing the procurement of a fleet of 18 hydrogen trains in the framework of a pilot project to replace diesel-powered ones. He pointed out that Alstom is a technological leader in this field, the company manufactured the world’s only hydrogen fuel cell zero-emission train that has been transporting passengers in Germany since last August. The company’s domestic strategic partner in the construction of the infrastructure is MOL, which is currently building 10 MW green hydrogen capacity.
Toyota is the one that introduced hybrid technologies over 20 years and continues to lead in this field, according to Richárd László, Country Director of Toyota Central Europe Hungary. As he said, “We are ambassadors for this technology.”
Finally, the participants discussed the widely reported European Hydrogen Bank and its role in scaling up the EU hydrogen economy.
Experts unpacked the future hydrogen market in the conference’s final panel discussions, focusing on the current and future sectors’ regulations, financing and investment landscape. Jan Jakob Peelen, Partner, co-head of the Europe Energy sector group at Dentons, provided an overview of electrolyser projects in the Netherlands. On this point, he noted that various electrolyser projects taking place right that are connected to offshore wind projects. Existing gas infrastructure is a key driver for electrolyser projects; however, it remains a regulatory issue as it is currently unknown who will operate these pipelines. Mr Peelen added that many of these projects are subsidised – “this makes projects much more feasible,” he noted.
Last but not least, Pál Ságvári, Vice President of the Hungarian Energy and Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said that the current regulation is too biased towards renewable hydrogen, we should leave more flexibility to build local competitiveness. However, Hungary is also working intensively at the EU level and a regulated Hungarian hydrogen market could see the light in the middle of next year.