Interview with Philipp Offenberg, Director Europe of Breakthrough Energy, speaker at the Waterstof Conferentie in Antwerpen on 25 April 2024. Breakthrough Energy is the umbrella name of several organizations, founded by Bill Gates in 2015, that aim to accelerate innovation in sustainable energy and in other technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It invests in a variety of startup companies that are attempting to commercialize new concepts

As the Director Europe at Breakthrough Energy, how do you envision the role of hydrogen in Europe’s future energy mix? What do you believe are the key steps that need to be taken to integrate hydrogen energy effectively into Europe’s energy infrastructure?

“Renewable hydrogen will play a pivotal role in Europe’s energy future, particularly to deeply decarbonise sectors like heavy industry, aviation, and shipping that are challenging to electrify. It is the missing link to bring renewables where they could not go before and complement direct electrification. Integrating hydrogen into Europe’s energy infrastructure requires critical actions. Firstly, Europe must massively deploy renewables such as wind and solar energy across Europe to scale up renewable hydrogen production and meet the EU targets. This requires faster permitting, grid connection and stronger electricity grids. Secondly, we need to build fit-for-purpose hydrogen infrastructure that connects hydrogen supply centers with demand hubs, which comes from sectors mostly requiring pure hydrogen (e.g., the fertiliser and steel sectors, e-fuels for aviation and shipping). Finally, we also need to ensure infrastructure is properly sized as hydrogen will not replace natural gas one to one. Fully accounting for the rapid progress made in electrifying our society will ensure an efficient energy system integration.”

In your experience, what are the most significant challenges currently faced in financing hydrogen projects? How do you think these challenges can be overcome to attract more investments into this sector?

“Renewable hydrogen is facing a major hurdle: its cost compared to existing polluting alternatives. Today, less than 10% of the announced renewable hydrogen production projects have reached final investment decision. High charges and levies on electricity, inflationary pressures and rising interest rates have hindered the business case of projects. Misdirected public funding is another issue, too often limited to innovation. This is not an innovation challenge but a volume challenge. Better, stronger, simpler-to-access public funding in this early market stage will be crucial to scale up and create a competitive market in Europe. The European Hydrogen Bank is a very promising and simple tool, but its budget remains insufficient and should be increased. The European Investment Bank could also play a pivotal role in issuing counter-guarantees to unlock private funding for renewable hydrogen production projects and to build electrolyser manufacturing plants in Europe.”

How do you perceive the current policy and regulatory landscape in Europe with respect to hydrogen energy? What policy changes or regulatory support do you think are essential for accelerating the growth and adoption of hydrogen technologies?

“Europe has established the world’s first fully fledged policy framework in renewable hydrogen and is home to the most innovative electrolyser companies. But Europe is losing ground to global competitors which benefit from stronger public support. A true European industrial approach in policymaking is urgently needed that better aligns state aid, competition, trade, taxation and innovation policies with the goals we set for ourselves. Crucially, whenever aid is granted, it must be done coherently so that Europe can secure global industrial leadership in such a strategic sector. This is key to make sure that the future of electrolysers can continue to be made in Europe.”

Thank you Philipp for the interview, great to meet you in person at the Waterstof Conferentie. See all speakers and program here.

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