As part of the European Green Deal, steering towards a climate neutral Europe, renewable hydrogen is a great alternative to non-renewable fossil fuels. Supporting the uptake of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen helps decarbonise the EU, in a more feasible, sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective way, whilst greatly reducing the dependence on fossil fuels both from the European Union and third country sources, such as Russia imports.
Introduction – What is Renewable Energy and what are its Benefits?
Hydrogen is an energy carrier, meaning that it can deliver and store a very large amount of energy; however, it itself does not act as a source of renewable energy. It is obtained commonly via electrolysis, among other processes such as the steam methane reforming procedure.
Electrolysis is the process of using electricity (which is ideally renewable) to split water molecules (H20) into hydrogen, which is then used as an energy carrier, and oxygen, in an electrolyser unit. This new source of hydrogen is then referred to as renewable fuels of non-biological origin, or else RYNBOs, in short when it is produced from renewable sources, and not from fossil fuels. In this process, it is crucial to match the electricity demand for hydrogen production with additional renewable electricity generation, because if hydrogen production is not matched by additional renewable generation, electrolysers’ additional electricity demand could risk to increased fossil-based power generation.
Renewable hydrogen can be used to replace fossil-based hydrogen, for transport and industry, and to start new industrial products like green fertilisers and steel. Therefore, hydrogen can be utilised in fuel cells to further generate electricity, power and heat. As a clean fuel, when consumed in a fuel cell in diverse applications, it produces only water, electricity and heat, hence minimums the elimination of greenhouse gases and other polluting gases in the atmosphere.
Although RYNBOs are currently only considered for transport fuels, the Commission has, in 2021, proposed that they should be used for any sector in Europe’s renewable energy target objective, whether transportation, commercial, industrial, residential, and portable. Furthermore, if the electricity in electrolysis is produced via solar and wind renewable energy sources, among other renewable sources, the production of renewable energy supports the EU’s green electricity sector and can provide long-term and a larger-scale storage of such energy.
One of the main benefits that renewable hydrogen possesses is its storage potential. This means that it allows for renewable energy to be stored in large quantities and for a long period of time. Hence, the flexibility of energy systems improves because the supply and demand of energy is balanced out, and energy efficiency increases among the Member States in the Union. Hydrogen and fuel cells can provide energy for use in diverse applications, including distributed or combined-heat-and-power; backup power; systems for storing and enabling renewable energy; portable power; auxiliary power for trucks, aircraft, rail, and ships; specialty vehicles such as forklifts; and passenger and freight vehicles including cars, trucks, and buses.
Renewable Hydrogen in the EU
The EU strategy on hydrogen (COM/2020/301) was adopted in 2020, setting a vision for the creation of a European hydrogen ecosystem. The Strategy suggested policy action goals in 5 areas: investment support; support production and demand; creating a hydrogen market and infrastructure; research and cooperation and international cooperation. Following the ‘Fit for 55′ package, where the Commission introduced several incentives for renewable hydrogen uptake, and the REPowerEU Plan, which namely promoted a ‘Hydrogen Accelerator’ concept to scale up the deployment of renewable hydrogen, we are observing the concept of energy emerging from renewable hydrogen as an optimum project within the European Union.
In February 2023, the European Commission proposed detailed rules through the adoption of two Delegated Acts; specifying further what renewable hydrogen is, how it works and how it can aid Member States to reach the Green Deal renewable energy targets. Further, and as required under the renewable Energy Directive, the Acts mainly ensure that all RFNBOs are produced from renewable electricity.
The Commission estimates that around 500-550 TWh of renewable electricity is needed to meet the 2030 ambition in REPowerEU of producing 10 million tonnes of RFNBOs. The 10Mt ambition in 2030 corresponds to 14% of total EU electricity consumption. This ambition is reflected in the Commission proposal for the EU’s 2030 renewable energy target to be set at 45%.
The First Delegated Act Recommendations
The first stage focuses on firstly defining the sources and producers of renewable energy. It focuses on Electrolysers, and states that as they are used to produce hydrogen, they will have to be connected to new renewable electricity production, ensuring that the generation of renewable hydrogen incentivises an increase in the volume of renewable energy available to the grid, as opposed to current levels available. Like this, hydrogen production will support the process of decarbonisation, it complements electrification efforts and avoids pressure on power generation from other methods. Here, it is important to ensure that hydrogen production does not take place during the period when renewable electricity is scarce, and expensive.
The proposed framework also provides producers the possibility to prove that hydrogen is renewable if they can guarantee additional power production and ensure that production is both temporarily and geographically optimised vis-à-vis the production of the renewable electricity used.
The Second Delegated Act Recommendations
The second stage includes providing a method to calculate life-cycle greenhouse gas emission savings from RYNBOs, and recycled carbon fuels. It considers, among others, greenhouse gas emissions during the full life cycle of the fuels, from emissions associated with taking electricity from the grid, processing it, and transporting the fuels to the end-consumer. There also includes methods on how to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions of renewable hydrogen, in case it is co-produced in a facility that also produces fossil-based fuels, such as oil and gas.
The Way forward
From last February, The European Parliament and the European Council had two months for scrutinising the Delegated Acts and share their acceptance or rejection to such proposals. Hence, hopefully, we are soon to see a change in the sector of using hydrogen as an alternative means of fuel in many sectors that are associated with required large consumption of energy. This is unless they extended this two-month period for a following two months, meaning until the end of June of this year.
For the Delegated Acts to fully comply with their goals, the market must develop and establish itself further. In fact, currently there are approximately 160MW of electrolysers in place, mostly in the form of demonstration plants. However, the EU hydrogen strategy targets 6000MW of electrolysers, to be powered by renewable energy, and this target must be met by the end of 2025.
Overall, the high efficiency and zero-emission operation renewable hydrogen is another step in the right direction towards a Greener European Union.
More information regarding Hydrogen in the European Union and incentives which are being issued by the EU Institutions, may be found here.
 It is a product group of renewable fuels defined in the Renewable Energy Directive (Art. 2.36). These fuels are produced from renewable energy sources other than biomass. Gaseous renewable hydrogen produced by feeding renewables-based electricity into an electrolyser is an example, including also ammonia, methanol or e-fuels.
 In particular, the REPowerEU Plan aims for the EU to produce 10 million tonnes and import 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2030