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19th Sep 2020

Hydrogen strategy criticised for relying on fossil fuel gas

  • Earlier this month, oil and gas companies such as Italy’s ENI and US’s ExxonMobil lobbied to water down the focus on renewables hydrogen of the strategy (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday (8 July) its strategy to upscale renewable hydrogen production and launched the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance to oversee its implementation.

"Hydrogen is a vital missing piece of the puzzle to help us reach this deeper decarbonisation," said EU commissioner for energy, Kadri Simson.

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The proposal establishes a three-phase approach which aims to boost "green" hydrogen production generated from renewable electricity across all energy-intensive industries sectors, such as steel, chemicals and transport.

From 2020 to 2024, at least 6 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolysers will be installed in the EU to produce up to one million tonnes of green hydrogen.

In a second phase, from 2025 to 2030, the commission aims to produce up to ten million tonnes of renewable hydrogen.

Meanwhile, the bloc's executive estimates that investments in renewable hydrogen could reach between €180bn and €470bn by 2050.

Double-edged sword

While the strategy focuses on green hydrogen, the commission acknowledges the need for a gradual approach investing in the so-called "blue" hydrogen - which is made from fossil fuels and relies on controversial technologies that can capture and store carbon emissions (CCS).

Civil society organisations criticised the commission for relying on early-stage technologies that require the continued use of fossil fuels, undermining the EU's 2050 climate-neutrality target set in the Green Deal.

"The Commission has fallen for the fossil fuel industry's hydrogen hype," said Tara Connolly from Brussels based NGO Friends of the Earth Europe.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) warned about a potential "double-edged sword", calling on the European Parliament and member states to request a timeline to stop investing in fossil fuels.

According to Barbara Mariani, EEB's senior policy officer for climate and energy, member states should phase-out of fossil gas by 2035 to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees.

"This is not going to happen if we invest in false solutions such as fossil-based hydrogen and carbon capture technology," she added, wringing about creating stranded assets.

Conflict of interest?

Meanwhile, the commission also launched on Wednesday the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance, which was meant to bring together researchers, industry representatives and civil society organisations to oversee the implementation of the strategy.

However, NGOs complaint about the dominance of oil and gas companies in the alliance.

"There is a risk of conflict of interest and fossil gas lock-in if we look at the proposed composition," said the coordinator at NGO Climate Action Network Esther Bollendorff, who claimed that civil society organisation should be better represented.

"This is key to ensure external scrutiny over investment decisions strictly in line with climate neutrality," she said.

According to the NGO WWF Europe, only two environmental civil society organisations were invited to join the Clean Hydrogen Alliance launch - with 24 hours notice.

Earlier this month, oil and gas companies such as Italy's ENI and US's ExxonMobil lobbied to water down the focus on renewables hydrogen of the strategy.

'Not a silver bullet'

Additionally, Bollendorff warned that hydrogen "is only one single element of a bigger puzzle and not a silver bullet," adding that the EU's future energy system needs to be based primarily on energy efficiency and renewables.

The commission estimates that the share of renewable energy in the EU's energy mix will be 84 percent by 2050 - assuming that fossil fuels will still be part of the EU's energy mix.

However, data indicate that energy efficiency remains very much a 'pending' task for the bloc.

In 2018, energy consumption in the EU was five percent above the efficiency target set for 2020 (and 22 percent short of the 2030 target), according to statistics published by Eurostat.

Opinion

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

As with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

Regions urge EU to act on 'green hydrogen'

The EU's regions urged the unlocking of the potential of hydrogen produced from renewable sources, so-called 'green hydrogen', to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

Opinion

Why hydrogen is no magic solution for EU Green Deal

Why is the EU Commission promoting a lose-lose (pay more, get less) strategy rather than the straightforward use of green electricity, where it will deliver bigger CO2-reductions and for less money?

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