By Bert De Colvenaer, Executive Director of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking
The fuel cells and hydrogen joint undertaking advocates further strategic alignment and shared ambitions with (all) European Member States
After 4 years of existence, the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, Europe's Industry led Public-Private Partnership, established to support development and deployment of Fuel Cells and Hydrogen technologies, assesses its progress and achievements in preparation for its second operational phase.
Through the developments and preliminary results of some 100 projects managed by the Joint Undertaking, commercial prospects have been well identified in the transport sector (cars, buses, motorbikes), as visitors to the Paris Motor Show 2012 could notice. Moreover, since fuel cells can be used to supply electricity in isolated areas not connected to a grid, particularly if the hydrogen can be produced locally (for ex. using wind turbines), prospects for stationary applications are also evident. For larger scale applications, cogeneration (combined heat and power) with fuel cell powered generators is becoming an increasingly appealing option. Fuel cells powered with hydrogen, offering much longer autonomy than currently available batteries, have also clearly proven their capacity to supply power to portable applications (laptops, cell phones, etc), have been identified as alternate power sources to the electric power grid and have also been used as back-up power generators. Last but not least, with an objective to address the intermittency of renewables and alleviate European energy dependency from fossil fuels, the energy storage capabilities of hydrogen are quickly gaining momentum.
At the occasion of its 5th Annual General Assembly, the Joint Undertaking and its stakeholders convened mid-October in Paris, France, organizing for the first time this event outside of Brussels. Apart from highlighting that these technologies are nearing widespread commercial reality, the decision to go National is instrumental in stressing the need for reinforced support from local policy makers, both national and European, as well as local private partners.
The European platform, operating on a ring-fenced budget of nearly one € billion for the period (2008-2013), which is jointly contributed by the European Commission and private partners, is now preparing for its second step and the strengthening of its ambitions under the Horizon 2020 agenda, the next multi-annual European program for research and innovation (2014-2020).
Next to the transition towards clean and sustainable energy in Europe, it is essential to maintain the competitiveness of European countries, who themselves, possess significant technological capacities in comparison to US and Asian partners such as Japan, Korea and China.
Market forces alone will not sustain the market entry of these Fuel Cell and Hydrogen technologies, ensuring that they can compete successfully with existing technologies. A continuous and determined commitment from public institutions and the private sector together is essential to support the deployment of innovative energy applications in the next decade.
Committed and profound involvement of European Member States is paramount to address Europe's Energy challenges on security of energy supply and energy storage. Coordination with the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking should be reinforced to align strategically and technical planning and pool resources for instance hydrogen infrastructure build-up demonstrations, a European wide regulatory framework and appropriate financial mechanisms that are instrumental to long-term private investments and financial leverage.