Stakeholder management/public support

What challenges did you face during the process of stakeholder management and securing public support?

ACES: Given the size of the project [EUR bn 1], there are multiple stakeholders involved. Of course, cooperation and coordination of those requires commitment, trust and efficient ways of working, all of which we have built up over the years. It is important to note that engagement and acceptance from third-parties such as regulators, policy makers, environmental agencies, as well as the general public need to be earned through specific actions.

ZEV: Our project is based on the successful cooperation of many different stakeholders. As we have a lot of different actors covering the entire value chain of the hydrogen economy (startups, SMEs as well as corporates) located directly in our region and as the region itself has to improve air quality to a great extent, the benefits of a large-scale fuel cell vehicle project were immediately immanent. Moreover, through this ambition, we were able to differentiate ourselves and become the first Hydrogen Valley in the European Union. The final catalyst for the project was then the successful participation in the CEF blending call – which enabled us to kick off the project.

eFarm: 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?

ACES: A key element in our efforts to bring stakeholders on board, was building credibility about large-scale geological storage of green hydrogen and thus earning their trust in project development. First, we leveraged our extensive in-house experience of storing hydrogen in salt caverns. Further, we have leveraged best practices of other operators of salt cavern storage facilities to further assure regulators and other entities involved about the safety of this project. Additionally, we have engaged with multiple environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the general public, and other key stakeholders at an early project stage to discuss the benefits of this project and gain support by this community.

ZEV: For the success of the project it was also important to ensure sufficient local governance in the areas where the respective refueling stations are to be built. At this market development stage, the setup of a hydrogen ecosystem must be orchestrated by all stakeholders together, especially the region, to be able to put the obtained public funding to efficient use.

eFarm: 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?

ACES: Overall, the key success factor is to convince outside parties about the importance of such hydrogen projects and to especially elaborate on the benefits of the projects and the key contribution it makes to mitigate climate change. It is essential to highlight that the stakeholders are part of a global solution to one of the greatest challenges the world faces today.

ZEV: Besides the above-mentioned governance mechanism, it is essential to have project leaders that can dedicate 100% of their time to set up and coordinate a project. Furthermore, for regional integration, we are working very closely with various industry clusters established by Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes – this has been a great success story so far, as the collaboration and engagement in these clusters is high. A close collaboration with all stakeholders from the early stages of project development is recommended.

Moreover, we are also working on developing a "Hydrogen Campus" in the region to provide the necessary education and training around hydrogen and fuel cells. Providing the necessary vocational training is essential to keep and create new jobs in the region, to deliver successful projects in the long run and to establish Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes as a lighthouse region for the sector.

eFarm: 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.