Commissioner Janez Potocnik: Why is hydrogen so important for Europe? 16th World Hydrogen Energy Conference

June 14, 2006

Lyon, 13 June 2006

16th World Hydrogen Energy Conference
Lyon, 13 June 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This World Hydrogen Energy Conference was initiated some 30 years ago – with a vision of clean, affordable and secure energy systems - based on hydrogen as an energy carrier.

The European Commission shares a similar vision for Europe.

Why is hydrogen so important for Europe?

Collectively we have a GDP of 10 trillion Euros and a population of 450 million people. Generating this wealth requires energy – lots of it! Europe’s total energy end use amounts to the equivalent of around 1800 Million tonnes of oil every year – roughly 15% of world energy consumption.

At the same time the cost of our growth and of that elsewhere in the world has strong impact on environment. Climate change is considered by many to be one of the biggest challenges ever faced by mankind. Do we want to stand condemned by future generations? Can we afford to miss the opportunity to fix their world? I do not think so.

We have some difficult choices to make - and we have some difficult steps to take. Cleaning up our conventional fossil based energy systems and introducing new ones will be complex, inconvenient, and expensive. But it is also a golden opportunity to create wealth, improve our health, our environment and stabilise our troubled world.

How does the EU intend to go about it? We will proceed with developing a diverse portfolio approach. In our proposal for multi-annual public research programme - the so called seventh framework programme - we have identified a number of energy research priorities, from the development of renewable energy to fusion - including hydrogen and fuel cells, clean coal and carbon capture and sequestration and energy efficiency and smart energy networks.

We also intend to look at how can we further overcome fragmentation and duplication which are consequences of our diverse membership. We will build on the experience of the different Technology Platforms in the energy area: zero emission power; bio-fuels; photo-voltaics; smart grids; and last but most certainly not least hydrogen. We intend to accelerate the development of promising energy solutions, and also help to create the conditions to bring them to the world markets.

I am encouraged by the progress in last years, and especially with the work of the European Technology Platforms. The European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform have been very successful in mobilising key stakeholders in Europe.

We shall shortly receive the Platform’s proposal for an Implementation Plan. This will be a key document. It will set out targets and priorities for integrated research and demonstration actions needed to take the hydrogen and fuel cells to market readiness in five to ten years. It will identify research needs and priorities appropriate to the 7th Framework Programme. The plan will also outline proposals for focused actions appropriate for implementation under a dedicated public-private partnership.

We call this the Joint Technology Initiative or “JTI” in short. It is our expectation that the Joint Technology Initiative will also create opportunities to bring together other similar public-private initiatives funded by European Union member states and regions.

It is clear that we have to research, develop, demonstrate, validate and plan for alternative energy systems now. We need transition solutions that will have an impact in the shorter term and we also need longer term solutions. That is where hydrogen as an energy carrier, comes in!

We believe that we must move forward together in public private partnership. Both sides are essential to progress the challenge. Only industry has the capacity to develop the products and invest in their production. But the public side has a crucial role in providing the initial funds for research and in ensuring that the strategy is demonstrably in the public interest. Only the public side can assess the collective benefits of new technologies objectively and match these with proportionate policy incentives, designed to stimulate the early markets.

European research programmes have contributed over half a billion of Euros over past twenty years, more than half of that in the past four years. I intend to see that this trend of increased support continues also in the future, in the seventh framework programme.

I very much hope therefore that in the near future we will have all the ingredients in place to go ahead with a decision on hydrogen “JTI”. I believe that an industry-led Joint Technology Initiative can provide the European level platform necessary to make real progress. But we shall need a convincing Implementation Plan backed by the unambiguous commitment of all stakeholders including the member states and the collective will to establish a credible and viable public-private partnership.

We also need to continue and intensify exchanges and collaboration at international level. This is a global challenge and the Commission strongly supports global initiatives such as the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy and the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum.

In short, hydrogen ticks all the right boxes in terms of the global policy benefits it can bring. It may, or may not be the “Holy Grail” for energy, but I am convinced that it will play a major role in our future energy systems.

Hydrogen may be the simplest and lightest element in the Periodic Table. Paradoxically, harnessing it for everyday consumption is surely one of the toughest technical and political challenges we have faced for a long time.

Ladies and gentlemen, the challenges and opportunities are out there – I urge you to work with us now to turn our vision into reality.

Thank you for your attention.

Item source: SPEECH/06/372 Date: 13/06/2006

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