What challenges did you face during the process of obtaining private funding for your project?
We as a firm, and this project in particular, are deeply rooted in the local/regional community in the North-German state of Schleswig-Holstein. The eFarm Hydrogen Valley focuses on building up a modularly expandable green hydrogen infrastructure in the region, covering renewables, electrolysis, distribution, refueling stations and vehicle fleets. The entire project partnership is centered around the idea of local stakeholder participation, e.g. via citizen-owned wind farms, municipal public transport operators, utility companies and public authorities (incl. permitting agencies). Thus, we made the deliberate decision to obtain private funding from other regionally operating entities as well as a regional bank consortium. While this helped us a lot in obtaining and maintaining credibility and authenticity with our stakeholders, it also required intensive efforts in terms of steering, managing and cooperating with all involved parties – and building acceptance in our communities.
What specific measures did you take to overcome these challenges?
In general, what really helped us along our whole development process, and eventually with our funding as well, is that many local people and entities are already used to and experienced with funding regional renewable energy projects. This high level of acceptance as well as the possibility to grasp the added value for the region through clean mobility applications (e.g. hydrogen fuel cell buses) are factors that allow us to convert the benefits of a green hydrogen economy into a concrete project.
Furthermore, we actively focused on including local stakeholders from the earliest stage of the project, including political decision-makers at municipal and state level. The resulting strong political support in our project proved very helpful and important for our further development. It also allowed the introduction of an "innovation-clause" in the public funding commitments, which – in our case – enables operators in the public transportation sector to claim additional costs with the local government in case of application of alternative powertrains. Ultimately, we were thus even able to project-finance the green hydrogen supply at the heart of the project on a non-recourse basis.
We further took measures to stimulate the hands-on experience of hydrogen end uses by investing in two hydrogen refueling stations and establishing a corresponding car-sharing program with fuel-cell electric vehicles.
What learnings can other projects take away from your experience?
First, regionally focused hydrogen valleys need to ensure that the general public, which includes not only political decision-makers but rather more importantly local residents, understand the needs and objectives of the project. Raising awareness for the importance of hydrogen use as well as demonstrating its regional added value to the people is the first step of creating a functioning hydrogen valley. This added value can take many forms, for example tapping into the local potential of abundant renewables, developing zero-emission public transport solutions that improve qualities of living or creating jobs in clean energy industries as well as enhancing visibility of local added value by local renewable energy technologies and thus creating additional acceptance that is crucial for the success of the energy transition.