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Hydrogen is an opportunity to diversify energy sources leading to more energy independence – interview with Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, CEO of Hydrogen Europe

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis will be one of the speakers of the Budapest Hydrogen Summit, to be held on 10 March.

Hydrogen has emerged from an innovative niche technology into a crucial energy vector and a central pillar of the energy transition in an incredibly short period of time. In light of our 2050 net-zero plans, the momentum behind hydrogen continues to grow. The next step is turning hydrogen into a global commodity which will require a lot of work. The time to act is now.

We asked Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, CEO of Hydrogen Europe about the opportunities and challenges of harnessing the full power of the most abundant element in the Universe.

For the European Union, hydrogen technology is not only important for meeting its climate objectives but also for preserving and enhancing the continent’s industrial and economic competitiveness.

“Europe is leading the world by example, with net-zero commitments by 2050 and the most comprehensive legislative framework proposed to develop a hydrogen economy,” starts Mr Chatzimarkakis adding that Europe is also a technological pioneer, with six out of ten major electrolysers companies worldwide being European.

Today, hydrogen is a key feedstock in many industrial sectors, with 8.5 million tons (Mt) consumed every year in Europe (EU, EFTA, UK). The consumption in these areas may increase up to 50-60 Mt by 2050. The hydrogen market is currently worth dozens of billions of euros and, considering the whole value chain – that also includes equipment manufacturing – the future market size is estimated to be more than 100 billion euros, explains Mr Chatzimarkakis.

Nonetheless, a key prerequisite for developing an internal market for hydrogen is to establish an adequate regulatory framework and align future infrastructure developments to the goal of a hydrogen economy.

“This includes setting up clear definitions for hydrogen such as renewable, low carbon, zero-carbon and negative carbon-hydrogen, and associated science-based thresholds for calculating their carbon content,” says Mr Chatzimarkakis pointing out that CO2 must become the new currency of the energy system.

Additionally, it is paramount to establish a certification system for all types of clean hydrogen to ensure that most climate-neutral typologies are encouraged and rewarded for their GHG emission reduction potential. “We also have to ensure that the proposed renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBO) targets in the industry and transport sector (50 per cent and 2,6 per cent respectively) are not watered down during the negotiations of the EU co-legislators,” says Mr Chatzimarkakis.

On the infrastructure side, hydrogen valleys represent the first concrete steppingstone towards an integrated hydrogen economy and, ultimately, towards a more sustainable, circular and interconnected energy system.

The Hydrogen and Decarbonised Gas Package, published in December, aims to set the pace for the development of a pure hydrogen network and repurposing parts of the existing natural gas infrastructure. As Mr Chatzimarkakis points out it is central to ensure these can develop both on a distribution and transmission level to ensure access to hydrogen for all customers. Equally important, is to not overregulate the nascent hydrogen sector from the onset.

Speaking about the challenges ahead of scaling up hydrogen production, the CEO of Hydrogen Europe highlights that there are legislative issues that can make or break the industry’s development. A crucial one is the Delegated Act on RFNBOs – decisive for deploying large scale renewable hydrogen projects and meeting decarbonisation targets. Hydrogen Europe has called on the Commission to complement the Fit for 55 package with a workable approach to additionality, geographic and temporal correlation to ensure major European projects can move on with the final investment decision and deliver much-needed volumes for industry and transport.

The Hydrogen and Decarbonised Gas Package was welcomed as a crucial driver for the development of the hydrogen sector alongside the Fit for 55 package. As Mr Chatzimarkakis explains these two initiatives work as one whole towards the development of a decarbonised EU economy and more interconnected energy system based on two main pillars: clean hydrogen and renewable electricity.

The hydrogen and decarbonised gas package comes with two clear messages: first – decarbonising the EU’s economy will not be possible with electricity alone and two – hydrogen is front and centre to climate action.

The EU is a first mover in this regard, there are no existing internal markets for hydrogen anywhere in the world. This brings significant and complex challenges. As Mr Chatzimarkakis highlights: overcoming the proposed strict unbundling regime, expanding the scope of hydrogen definitions and ensuring a clear framework that outlines natural gas pipeline retrofitting and repurposing as well as the development of pure hydrogen networks at all levels will all be crucial in achieving an internal market for hydrogen already by 2030.

“We need to more involvement from hydrogen stakeholders in the process of infrastructure planning which is why establishing a governance model for operating the future European Backbone (European Network of Network Operators for Hydrogen, ENNOH) will be important. It remains to be seen whether this will be done through ENTSOG or a new, dedicated body,” says Mr Chatzimarkakis.

The supply of low-carbon and negative emission hydrogen – depending on used technology – is central for Europe to achieve its climate objectives. Mr Chatzimarkakis confirms that imports will play a major role to meet projected European hydrogen demand. He points out that the EU will play a role in fostering hydrogen development in neighbouring countries and in creating new win-win synergies that will help cover its projected hydrogen demand, create jobs and generate wealth for European and external energy partners.

In the CEE region, Ukraine is billed as a promising major hydrogen supplier due to excellent conditions for large-scale green hydrogen production. Speaking about the contribution of the CEE region to Europe’s hydrogen future, Mr Chatzimarkakis highlights that the countries of the region are already significant producers and consumers of hydrogen as Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania account for 20 per cent of European (EU, EFTA, UK) hydrogen consumption. Poland itself is the third-largest hydrogen producer and consumer in Europe.

“During the clean energy transition, these regions will need to replace their current hydrogen consumption with clean hydrogen as well as decarbonise other industrial activities with clean hydrogen such as steel, shipping, land transport and aviation,” underlines Mr Chatzimarkakis.

He points out that countries in Central and Eastern Europe should take the opportunity to utilise their current manufacturing expertise to connect to these new hydrogen supply chains. While on the production side, they will also benefit from new hydrogen production methods that have not yet been commercialized such as methane pyrolysis.

Hydrogen also comes with a great opportunity to diversify energy sources and lead to more energy independence which is of utmost importance for the region. Furthermore, it creates more circular value chains and comes with new business opportunities as well as massive funding.

As Europe is working continuously on establishing the rules of its hydrogen market and infrastructure Mr Chatzimarkakis reminds us that we need to implement an adequate regulatory framework that is flexible enough to correspond to the needs of all sectors and all Member States.

“Different types of clean hydrogen will develop in different member countries based on their respective energy mix and geographical characteristics,” concludes the CEO of Hydrogen Europe adding that the EU needs to lead by example and allow for all Member States to make choices that fit their economies, energy mix and consumer base.

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