Speech of EVP Timmermans at the World Hydrogen Summit 2023 in Rotterdam

“Check against delivery”

Good afternoon,

I have very fond memories of this space in particular. One of my fondest memories is going way back to the end of April 1981. When I was here for a concert of man who was up and coming at that time, who was becoming popular, and that popular man was Bruce Springsteen. He’s coming back to the Netherlands this year, actually this month, so you get another opportunity –  the only difference is that the tickets are about a hundred times more expensive. But for the rest, the music still inspires me, by the way, those of you who are visiting Rotterdam, do consider staying on a couple of days, because I don’t know if you’ve seen the images from Naples last week, well Rotterdam is going to do the same next Sunday when Feyenoord wins the championship, you will see some amazing things happening on the Coolsingel. If you have time, do stay and enjoy this remarkable city. It’s such a wonderful city. I’m really, really deeply in love with [it].

Well, it’s my duty today to talk about hydrogen, and not so much about Rotterdam. So, let’s try and take stock of everything we did on energy and climate policy, and also look at the challenges that remain ahead.

When we talked last year, we were about to adopt our RePower plan. As I told you at the time, when we said we would phase out our dependency on Russian fossil fuels. Very few people thought it was actually possible.

But we delivered, industry delivered, governments delivered but most of all our citizens delivered. In 2022, we increased our renewable technology to by more than any other year on record. Citizens were convinced for a number of reasons, but they were convinced to save more energy than anybody had thought possible.

We created new energy partnerships to diversify gas supply, at a  scale few people believed was achievable. And this last winter, we saved more gas than we ever thought we could.

While it was difficult, it was proved to be very well doable. European industry, SMEs, and households have been put to the test. But we’re all coming out of this challenging winter with an even stronger commitment to the energy transition. And so, 2022 will be remembered as the year when Cleantech has become the key to energy security, on top of already being at the heart of our efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

We’ve also come a long way on hydrogen. Four years ago, I made a promise in my hearing in front of the European Parliament that Europe would have an ambitious hydrogen strategy.

When we launched that strategy, many considered it too ambitious. Today the EU project pipeline has already beyond 40 gigawatts of electrolyser capacity. I think we could say again, Europe delivered. The EU is now the first and only major market to have ambitious hydrogen targets, solid funding schemes as well as a solid policy framework for hydrogen production, consumption, and infrastructure development.

We have set clear definitions for producers of renewable hydrogen under the revised Renewable Energy Directive, currently under the scrutiny of the European Parliament and the Council, and we hope they can finally be adopted by the deadline of June the 13th. The Renewable Energy directive also sets binding renewable hydrogen sub targets which will help kickstart first hydrogen production and offtake projects.

We’re also advancing on infrastructure deployment. Interest is clearly there, and it’s quite huge already. Just last year, we received 180 proposals for the very first European hydrogen projects of common interest and fully infrastructure to import hydrogen from overseas. We are currently working to connect the dots on the map. Where are large scale hydrogen production hydrogen uptake most likely to emerge first, and how do we link those sites?

Next to that, the new Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation will ensure a basic hydrogen refuelling infrastructure across the EU that allows hydrogen vehicles to freely circulate on the EU’s main transport axes. The last legislative piece in this puzzle are the rules to govern the nascent hydrogen market. The final negotiations between the European Parliament and Council on this will start next month. I hope that they can be concluded before the end of the year, because to source hydrogen at the right scale and at the right price hydrogen off-takers of course need well-functioning markets.

Of course, to move the hydrogen market from niche to scale it is not enough to have targets and rules. We know that we also need public financing, if only to kickstart this market. That is why we’ve already approved more than 20 billion euros to develop a European hydrogen ecosystem. This includes 10 billion euros under the Resilience and Recovery Fund and 10.7 billion euros in public aid from two Important Projects of Common European Interests. In addition to this, 800 million euros under the Innovation Fund have already been assigned to hydrogen projects and we are still assessing new projects proposals. I really believe that the Innovation Fund can play a very important role here, especially through the Hydrogen Bank’s public auctions that will be launched later this year.

Originally, my speech here was intended to preview the launch of the Hydrogen Bank, on May 17th. But as you all know, we decided to launch it much earlier, already in March. The Hydrogen Bank sends a signal to the global investors’ community that the EU is building a single, simple point of entry for hydrogen production support. And I think it can be a real game changer. We can expand on it too: the more Member States pool their resources together under the Innovation Fund and the Hydrogen Bank, the stronger the impact will be. That is why we will also open a possibility for Member States to use the Hydrogen Bank auctions as a service, adding their own money to fund projects within their own territory.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, Europe has come a long way and has proven time and again that we mean business when it comes to hydrogen. We are advancing on infrastructure, on production, on demand and on markets, all at the same time. Before the end of the year, we will have a complete picture on the final legislative framework, public funding, and the emerging infrastructure. Over the coming months I hope to see your investments moving fast as well, because we have no time to waste. Europe is ready to move the hydrogen industry from niche to scale and make this a long-term partnership.

And I also see you know developments in other parts of the world, the Inflation Reduction Act has a huge impact on some of these decisions. I don’t see this as a threat, I see this as an extra opportunityI think what we can offer, perhaps or what we concentrate more on than our American friends, is on creating a regulatory framework that offers long term stability. This is going beyond just offering tax reductions and investment possibilities. This is creating also the security, that long term regulatory frameworks will be there to create more security for investors and others who want to be part of this.

I also want to emphasize that we know as Europeans that we will never ever be able to produce the amounts of hydrogen, green hydrogen, [that] we need. We will need to import hydrogen from other parts of the world – now that I see his Royal Highness [Prince Abdulaziz] coming into the hall. I really think there are so many opportunities for partnerships with countries like Saudi Arabia and other countries who do invest in a future where our dependency on hydrocarbons will be phased out and the introduction of clean energy sources will be phased in.

Also here, I believe, looking for partnerships, signing common approaches, will offer the opportunity to help the whole world move in the right direction.  I look at all the challenges we face globally, if I look at the challenges and the opportunities this Industrial Revolution offers, if I look at the willingness of countries that, to date, depend largely on the production of hydrocarbons, to look beyond the era of hydrocarbons, at least to look beyond the era of unabated hydrocarbons into the direction of clean energy”: I think this is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss this is a dialogue we cannot afford to avoid. This is a way forward that will bring the world together and I hope that at COP28 in Dubai later this year, we can be more concrete or what can be done by all those in involved in this at the end of the day.

Let me end on this: we need to understand that facing the climate crisis is a challenge to humanity that transcends any other challenges we may have. It especially transcends differences we may have on other issues. We need to understand this, to make sure that we deliver to our children and grandchildren a world that this is least as good as it is today. Especially for us in the parts, those parts of the world, where we start to only believe in decline, we can prove that decline is not necessary, that we can have high levels of development without endangering our survival through degradation of our natural environment. And  we can offer to the world that is still developing, an opportunity to develop in a better and a cleaner way than we have done in the past. The access to renewable energy, in those parts of the world where there’s almost limitless access to solar energy and wind energy, the access for those countries to a prosperous economic, social and political developments comes through renewable energy. And there is no way I see that, renewable energy in combination with abated hydrocarbons, there’s no way we could have this development without hydrogen playing a key part in all of this.

Thank you very much for your attention.