Romano Prodi: European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform General Assembly, Brussels, 20 January 2004

January 21, 2004

Brussels, 20 January 2004

Dear Minister Carvahlo,

Distinguished speakers and guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Today marks a milestone for hydrogen and fuel-cell stakeholders in Europe.

I am pleased to preside over the launch of this European technology platform on hydrogen and fuel cells. I am sure that it will be highly influential in bringing forward a radically new approach to the way we produce and use energy in Europe -- and eventually worldwide.

I refer of course to the sustainable hydrogen economy.

The energy challenge

Energy is central to virtually every aspect of daily life. Yet in economic terms, it is a scarce resource. It will become even scarcer as energy demand continues to increase and oil production peaks. Energy scarcity is a potential threat to our economy, comfort, and stability. Furthermore, the way we produce and use energy today could bring global climate change, with extremely serious health and economic consequences.

Let me give you just two figures: at current trends, Europe's oil import dependency is set to grow from around 50% today to 70% or more in 2025. And we currently rely on oil for 90% of the energy needed for transport. Current trends are clearly unsustainable. We have to act now in order to change them.

Hydrogen and fuel cells can address policy concerns.

Hydrogen, like electricity, is a clean energy vector. It can be produced from a wide variety of primary energy sources. It is possible to de-carbonise fossil fuels by carbon capture, allowing for the production of hydrogen from these traditional fuels without carbon emissions. But more importantly in my view, hydrogen is ideal for the process of gradually replacing fossil energies -- in particular oil -- by a range of renewable primary energy sources such as wind, bio-mass and solar energy.

That vision was strongly supported by the Conference on the Hydrogen Economy that the Commission organised last June, building on the work of the High-Level Group on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the first half of 2003. Opening the Conference, I said that our objective is to achieve "a step-by-step shift towards a fully integrated hydrogen economy, based on renewable energy sources, by the middle of the century." Today, I stand by that objective and am even more confident that we will achieve it.

To turn the vision into reality, however, Europe needs more research, large-scale demonstration and deployment projects, and joint efforts to lay down regulations and standards appropriate to the future hydrogen economy. These efforts will be only successful if national and European resources, both public and private, are pooled in a coordinated way. This is why, with my colleagues Loyola de Palacio and Philippe Busquin, I have decided to foster the creation of the European Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy -- and this is what your technology platform is starting today.

Growing momentum for hydrogen

A great deal has happened in the months since the Conference on 15 June 2003, both in the European Union and internationally.

Following the Conference, in June 2003 I put hydrogen high on the agenda of the EU-US Summit. In a joint statement, President Bush and I committed ourselves to collaborating on a global scale to accelerating the development of the hydrogen economy. The aim of this collaboration is to enhance the security of energy supply, increase the diversity of energy sources and improve local and global air quality.

The growing commitment to developing a global hydrogen economy was further strengthened in November, when the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy was launched with the United States, 14 other countries and the European Commission in Washington. This International Partnership in particular includes India and China, which will become major consumers of energy as their economies continue their rapid expansion. It is a promising step towards building international collaboration on technical, regulatory and policy-related matters.

In Europe, in September the Commission discussed and endorsed the main conclusions of the June conference. We then took the initiative of setting up your Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform and its Advisory Council, which has already met once, in December last year. I am pleased to say that the Council comprises major stakeholders from industry, research, public authorities, users and civil society. And it covers the broadest range of interests who have much to gain from working together and who cover aspects ranging from production and storage to distribution and transport applications to stationary and portable fuel-cell applications. This gives your Platform the strength and credibility it needs to give a major boost to making progress towards the hydrogen economy.

The European Initiative for Growth and the Quick-Start Programme

The Commission also launched the European Initiative for Growth to accelerate and restore confidence in economic recovery. The Growth Initiative includes a "Quick-Start Programme" of projects involving public and private investments in infrastructure, networks and knowledge. The aim is to stimulate public-private partnerships, in cooperation with the European Investment Bank to leverage finance.

This programme specifically provides for a major initiative for hydrogen production and use, which could last 10 years and draw on an indicative total budget of 2.8 billion euro of public and private funding. One of the tasks of your Technology Platform in the coming months is to shape the precise content of this initiative, which has already received the political backing of Member States at the highest level.

Conclusion

Your Technology Platform is thus both important and very timely. You have the opportunity, with full political support, to build consensus and drive forward a European research and deployment strategy, including public-private partnerships, lighthouse projects, standards and regulations. In so doing, you will build a critical mass and rally stakeholders to make Europe a leading player and a strong partner in the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy.

The industrialised world must face the need to develop alternative-energy technologies boldly. And I am proud to see that Europe is at the forefront of this challenge.

We must focus on technologies that can sustain economic growth, contribute positively to the challenge of climate change and eliminate harmful pollution forever.

Our goal is for sustainable and clean energy to be the inheritance of all the world's people by the middle of this century. By achieving that goal we shall contribute to quality of life, peace and stability the world over. And in order to achieve it we must move into higher gear now.

You are here to turn this vision into reality.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your commitment to building the sustainable hydrogen economy. I wish you every success in this major venture.

DN: SPEECH/04/26 Date: 20/01/2004

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