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In-Person Panel Discussion: Accelerating Integrated Infrastructure in the North Sea

North Sea event

On 18 April 2024, EPICO held a panel discussion on “Accelerating Integrated Infrastructure in the North Sea”, at the UK Ambassador’s Residence in Brussels.

Introduced by Miranda Dawkins, Councillor for Trade, Sustainability and Markets at the UK Mission to the EU, the discussion highlighted the strategic role of hydrogen in decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors and the need for integrated infrastructure planning in the North Sea. Panellists noted hydrogen's dual role as an energy carrier and storage solution, crucial for enhancing energy security and decarbonising the industry. Discussions also covered the challenges of investing in infrastructure without adequate demand, the potential for repurposing existing gas infrastructure for hydrogen, and the importance of a supportive financial and regulatory environment.

Klaus Dieter Borchardt, Senior Associate at EPICO, emphasised the need to base ambitious energy targets on practical measures that address the entire energy value chain. He highlighted the necessity for Member States to engage in innovative financing strategies, given the limited scope of EU instruments. Borchardt advocated for a threefold expansion of the Innovation Fund and urged Member States to match the European Hydrogen Bank funding, drawing inspiration from Germany and Austria.

State guarantees cannot be the only solution. We should focus on spurring private investments instead, by setting clear targets, solving issues like cost allocation and giving certainty to investors. The capital markets union, mentioned in the Letta Report, could be an additional way to attract more investment into European projects.
Klaus-Dieter Borchardt

Christoph von dem Bussche, CEO of Gascade, regretted the absence of hydrogen targets with specific regard to the North Sea in EU policies since RePowerEU. He stressed the importance of European coordination to streamline the technical and regulatory aspects of hydrogen infrastructure and suggested that the European Commission could play a more active role in accelerating the process. He mentioned the German Hydrogen Infrastructure Plan as an example of proactive infrastructure development, where the state and grid operators share financial risks through an “amortisation account” to ensure that the infrastructure can be built while demand for renewable hydrogen increases.

Daniel Fraile, Chief Policy Officer at Hydrogen Europe, emphasised the need for clearly defined roles for the European Network of Network Operators for Hydrogen (ENNOH) and Transmission System Operators (TSOs). Politicians are currently demanding hydrogen solutions with urgency, without putting enough political capital into regulating and financing. While welcoming the European Hydrogen Bank, he praised the US approach for its flexibility and technology-neutral stance, which ties financial incentives directly to carbon emission reductions.

Finally, in his closing remarks, Bernd Weber, EPICO’s CEO, stressed the potential of the North Sea for a more robust EU-based supply chain and energy resilience in the context of increasing geopolitical challenges. He also insisted on the need for clear rules for cross-border projects and a detailed infrastructure.

At the end of May, EPICO will organise a Policy Accelerator on this agenda with hand-picked experts on the topic. The results of the discussion will be featured in an upcoming publication.