For an industry-focused conference, it was refreshing to hear the closing session emphasise the importance of one key element in the overall equation: the general public.
Mirela Atanasiu, from Clean Hydrogen JU, said: “This is a very important matter which we have not paid attention, as our technologies were not in front of the public.”
She said research shows the level of awareness hydrogen technologies is equivalent to biofuels and geothermal, with less than 10% coming in contact with them in EU member states. However, there was a majority supporting its potential as a promising technology.
“So we are on the right path – the public is there, but we have to do more to get the technology to them.”
Helene Chraye, Head of Unit, Directorate Clean Energy Transition – Directorate Clean Planet, DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission, reverted to Hydrogen Valleys – set to be boosted by additional €200m funding from RePowerEU – saying the concept has evolved to encompass regions.
“Thirty years ago, when I started the network, we drew lines on a map – but now we are doing the opposite. We are putting nodes, and then they will connect and make a flexible grid – we need to keep that image,” she said.
Consumers will come on board, providing they see a benefit, she added. “We need to involve people, listen to them, see what they need and want – and that’s very difficult, as the industry is not well adjusted to that, so you need a partnership between local authorities and industry.”
She also stressed the importance of political willingness. “If really the EU wants to do it, it won’t take 10 years – it will take three to four years. We need the acceleration.”
Luigi Crema, Director of the Sustainable Energy Center, Hydrogen Europe Research Board Member, said the development of a hydrogen ecosystem provides additional energy security to consumers. “When a valley is close to another one, you start to enlarge the infrastructure.”
Atanasiu expressed concern about the slowing down of research. “We are very busy deploying the current technologies – but that still needs improvement, it’s still expensive. I have a bitter feeling, and maybe I’m wrong, that we’re slowing down and not paying sufficient attention to the next generation of products, to continue to improve the technology to keep the leadership and competitiveness in Europe.
“I see too much going into the Valleys – which are important – but to the detriment of research.”
Chraye concluded that the research of today is the market of tomorrow. “The problem is it’s very often clashing with the political cycle,” she said. “It’s up to the industry to have a long term vision, and for us to support it. The matter is not always the money – it’s the willingness and the impact.”