(Source European Commission)
Check against delivery
Ladies and gentlemen
It’s good to be here with you today. The last time I was here, it was for someone who’s been my hero: Bruce Springsteen, who gave a concert here in Ahoy. When I say ‘hydrogen rocks’ you know why, where that comes from.
One of the most exciting journeys into the future, I believe, is clean energy coming from hydrogen. It’s good that we have this discussion here in Rotterdam today.
Not many of you might be aware of this, but back in 1835 (that’s even before my experience with Springsteen) Edgar Allen Poe, at the age of 25 – he was then virtually unknown – chose Rotterdam as the prime location for one of his first novels. The protagonist, Hans Phaall, took a balloon flight to the moon in what many see as the first science-fiction story ever. Poe chose 19th century Rotterdam for this adventure, as, in his words, it was a place of “almost philosophical excitement.” It was a city of pioneers who developed scientific phenomena that were “totally unexpected” and that “reversed entrenched thinking of the time.”
Rotterdam clearly inspired Poe almost 180 years ago. I think it can also inspire us today when we talk about one new moon shot for Europe, and that is to build a clean hydrogen economy. We are not going to be as adventurous or border-line maniacs as Poe’s protagonist Hans Phaall. We will build a hydrogen economy with careful thinking, a solid plan, and a clear compass for global finance to bank on this energy solution.
As I said, ‘hydrogen rocks’ and today, it’s a rock-star ready to go mainstream and become, alongside renewable electricity, a must-have in our economy.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, this horrible war Putin has started, has strengthened Europe’s resolve to call an end to our reliance on fossil fuels. Freeing ourselves from our fossil-fuelled past was already an imperative to save our climate and to be frank, humanity’s place on our planet. The fight against the climate crisis is after all one for humanity’s survival.
Now, as a key technology to wean ourselves off Russian gas and oil, hydrogen has become part of the answer to help Europe and the world gain freedom in the true sense of the word. Hydrogen is an essential part of Europe’s future energy sovereignty.
The geopolitical benefits of hydrogen are obvious. It can be created in various places in the world. Hydrogen allows countries, including on our sister continent of Africa, to be part of the energy supply of the future, whilst also enabling their own clean energy transition and expanding their own electricity access for citizens. 600 million people in Africa still have no access to electricity. We can solve that. We can solve that. We can solve that quickly through renewable energy and we can solve it in a way that it can also bring profits to the African economy if hydrogen is part of that reasoning.
So my main message today is: Europe will continue banking on hydrogen, and especially green hydrogen, as a clear part of our clean future. Let me explain what that commitment means concretely.
Our European Hydrogen Strategy already set ambitious targets for the use of hydrogen. When I first spoke of them, I was seen as being too ambitious. Now, not even two years later, these targets aren’t only realistic, but we are even raising them as part of our plans to end Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.
Next week, on 18 May, the European Commission will present detailed plans to repower Europe with clean energy, and we will be very concrete that this means more green hydrogen.
RepowerEU will include a dedicated Hydrogen Accelerator plan. We want to see 10 million tonnes of green hydrogen produced in Europe and 10 million tonnes imported.We will present a map with the key infrastructure to build, from the backbone to the port, from storage to distribution. We will propose the regulations to give investors certainty, including on certifications of green hydrogen. We will unleash new financing tools to help sectors like industry and transport to use the hydrogen that we produce and import.
It’s good to be here today with a large community of companies, scientists and NGOs that are committed to this cause. You show that these plans aren’t science fiction. You know that with the right push, these plans are already becoming reality. And frankly, I need you in all of this, because, of course, we might get things wrong, we might not get everything right and we need your feedback to make sure that we correct and adapt our plans, if you believe that they will not produce the results we need.
Later today, I will join the Port of Rotterdam together with over 40 businesses to announce a very significant increase of their own ambitions to produce and import hydrogen. The Port’s new ambitions will bring almost 40% of the imported green hydrogen that Europe needs. It’s a grand offer to Europe and the world to repower ourselves with more hydrogen. And it’s fully part of the Dutch tradition of being traders. Not just producers, but also traders.
Those investors, as many others in the world, are right to see the potential and benefits for citizens. Hydrogen can make what seems impossible – to make our heavy industry carbon-free – possible, and quickly so. We can produce steel and cement with green hydrogen, as is already being demonstrated today. I was in the north of Sweden a couple of weeks ago where you can see this happening in practice: green steel. This will create new and lasting jobs for our citizens, for our children and our grandchildren.
We will see hydrogen-fuelled trucks on our roads, and barges on our inland waterways. Even bigger ships will cross oceans while running on green ammonia derived from hydrogen. As a port city, Rotterdam calls itself Europoort – the gateway to Europe. It can be a gateway for green hydrogen across the continent as well.
Seaports in general are interesting places to start the hydrogen economy. They are pretty unique places in the world in terms of tying it all together.
Think about it: offshore wind can come to shore here, or offshore wind can create hydrogen at sea and bring hydrogen on shore. You’ll have electrolysers to make green hydrogen, and industries like steel and cement around port areas to use it. Many of them are already there because their primary materials arrive through those ports. You’ll have electrolysers in many, many places and it will also help us use hydrogen on trucks and ships.
This is going to be a green transformation that is going to make Europe look completely different, and it will start at the ports and then go inland. Ports are clearly the clean energy hubs of the future, and coalitions of ports are working with us to put these hubs in place.
I think this is also an important element through all of it, and I want to really emphasize this in Rotterdam: don’t see other European ports as a competition, see them as your partners in a global development. I mean, we have had centuries of competition with nearby ports, whether it’s Antwerp or Hamburg. But now we should be allies: Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Hamburg, etcetera. Because the competition is outside of Europe and innovation is going to determine whether ports are going to be successful in the future as well.
I think the speed with which hydrogen is advancing today is nothing short of an energy revolution. And we have to support this, with all the means we have at the European Commission and the European Union.
Our Hydrogen Accelerator will send a clear signal for investment to come your way. We are rallying large investments ourselves, with European innovation and energy funds. We will make it as easy as possible, under our State aid rules, for Member States to also contribute.
Now, we aren’t naïve when it comes to these targets and investments. We know that there are obstacles to overcome to bring the hydrogen economy to life. So let me also address these obstacles.
The cost of producing hydrogen mainly depends on three things. First, the availability and price of electricity to produce it. Second, the electrolysers to make green hydrogen out of it. And third, support from public authorities, especially to bridge price gaps to ensure initial profitability.
When it comes to the availability of clean electricity, there are very relevant pricing developments. With the gas prices we see currently, green hydrogen from renewables is becoming competitive. In this way, Russia’s war against Ukraine, facilitates the very energy transition that will stop fuelling Putin’s war machine. And in that sense, in all aspects, this war he started is self-defeating. It is a tragedy, a tragedy he has created, not just for the people of Ukraine, but in the long run for his own people as well.
Europe is currently producing 98% of its hydrogen from natural gas. That must change. Especially now, when we need to cut our reliance on Russian gas and other fossil fuels, we must move to green hydrogen from renewables as soon as possible. Once again, we don’t have our own natural resources as Europeans, except for directly using the sun, directly using the wind, that will create the energy sovereignty Europe needs.
When it comes to ramping up renewables, everywhere I go, in every corner of Europe I visit, stakeholders tell me one sole thing: ‘if we want more wind and solar projects, or even geothermal and other projects, we need quicker permitting’. In the worst cases, procedures for a wind farm can take up to 9 years and for solar energy on land up to 4,5 years.
So yes, permitting must be accelerated, and it must be accelerated drastically, in clear go-to areas that allow a speedy procedure and ensure nature protection at the same time. We have to be very, very creative. In our upcoming plans, we will make concrete proposals to achieve that. For instance, if we concentrate solar power more on solar rooftops, that creates an accelerator in all sorts of aspects, including in permitting. We are not using all the roofs we could be using. We should be using all of them and immediately.
Let me turn to electrolysers. We are also working hard on the production of this key piece of the puzzle. Last week, my colleague Thierry Breton reached a deal with the European electrolyser chain toincrease the European production of electrolysers tenfold to 17,5 GW per year. That capacity will match our ambitions to have 10 million tons of green hydrogen produced in Europe each year. So we are putting in place the electrolysers we need.
Finally, as politicians and as public authorities, we can and will help to do bridge the cost difference between green hydrogen and dirtier forms of energy in the start-phase. We have concrete instruments for that, carbon contracts for difference, and we will make proposals to roll them out massively so that green hydrogen gets the kick-start that it needs.
Before I finish, let me make one point clearly:
Yes, I am convinced that green hydrogen will make a very sound business case in Europe. The North Sea can be one of our main import corridors for green hydrogen. Ukraine can be too, once we will start rebuilding the country.
We will work together with the Ukrainian government to make hydrogen a big part of our common future. And the Ukrainian government is extremely keen to be part of this and is willing to really stick its neck out in agreeing with us on how to do this as quickly as possible. Ukraine would be an enormous asset in all sorts of ways for our energy of the future. Not just in terms of hydrogen, but also in terms of the materials that we will need for the industry that will have to produce the solar panels, the wind turbines, etcetera that will be at the basis of the electricity that we will need for the hydrogen economy. So, in that sense, integrating Ukraine in our future vision for our energy needs is also a way of providing an opportunity for Ukraine to build back better, where it will be necessary after the devastations caused by Putin.
But I also believe thatboosting green hydrogen is an imperative to show ourselves responsible to the rest of the world. With the right push, Africa and the Mediterranean neighbours can become green hydrogen producers, providing their own populations with renewable energy.
I am now traveling around to see if we can replace some of the fossil fuels, especially gas, with LNG from other places where LNG is produced. But my offer to those countries is not just to sign contracts to produce LNG for the European Union, but also to look beyond that. To look beyond fossil fuels. Because they are all looking beyond that already. And to offer them a partnership with the future hydrogen economy.
I can report to you, they’re all interested in this. They all understand the potential of that. And they will also understand that they will be able to produce electricity in such quantities, way beyond their own needs, that they have an export product. And since electrons cannot travel through cables they will have to be stored in a different way. Hydrogen of course is the first thing you think about.
And isn’t it interesting that all of this revolves around the Mediterranean? The Mediterranean is coming back as the heart of Europe. Like it was in antiquity. And then I’m not just talking about the European countries along the Mediterranean, but also the African countries, the Arab countries.
All of them can be part of a stable, diversified, energy resourcing of the future that will not come with the same geopolitical risks as we see now, that will allow us to become cleaner, to face the major challenges humanity faces, and at the same time offer development to those countries where development is needed most. Especially those countries with high birth-rate and very talented young populations that are just waiting to make the best of themselves, are waiting to use the opportunities. The energy transition is a huge, huge opportunity.
So, I started out today with scientific revolutions in Rotterdam, and I am ending with new energy forms coming from Africa and the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is back, which I find fascinating. But the Mediterranean and the North Sea are connected. Just as the whole of Europe is connected to each other and to the rest of the world.
We will have to find global solutions for this. It’s not per chance that we are also talking to places, faraway places, like Australia. Or not so far places across the Atlantic, where the hydrogen economy is also seen as something of the future.
But, we as Europeans have an advantage. We have a couple of years on others, when it comes to the hydrogen economy. We are going to quickly lose that advantage if we don’t act quickly. That’s what we want at the Commission, to act quickly, to be your partners, and to show that we can deliver on this.
Thank you very much.