Hydrogen Valley South Tyrol
What challenges did you face during the process of obtaining public funding for your project?
During the first phase of our project development, we encountered several challenges of different sorts. The first and probably very common challenge was the missing know-how and expertise regarding European funding programs (especially structural funds), for us as project promoters as well as for local authorities involved. Due to unknown benchmarks for the new hydrogen technology, we were only able to obtain the absolute minimum of possible funding from the local funding administration. In order to get higher funding, we had to start an intense phase of discussion with the local administration managing the ERDF funding, in which we outlined the situation of the proposed hydrogen project regarding legal funding aspects in coherence to European funding rules.
Furthermore, a major test for our following projects, that took a lot of time and resources, was to obtain co-funding at the national/regional level after receiving the commitment for European funding. Although having that commitment substantially eases the search for local co-funding, it remained a big challenge for us.
What specific measures did you take to overcome these challenges?
For the first challenge, we leveraged that experience as a learning opportunity, i.e. after our first application for European funding, which brought along several ambiguities on a legal and general process level, we invested into advanced training on European public funding laws for our core team and sought targeted external expertise (e.g. (legal) consulting services) in order to deal with the local administration responsible of funding and to be better prepared for the next funding program. Ultimately – and also thanks to our own experience over time – we managed to obtain funding for Phase 2 of our Valley from three EU sources for different building blocks: FCH JU (Horizon 2020), Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and LIFE-Program.
Regarding the search for local co-funding, we realised that ensuring local public commitment as well as integrating political decision-makers (e.g. at provincial or municipal level) at an early stage of the project is very important in order to find reliable partners.
What learnings can other projects take away from your experience?
First, we believe that our general strategy of going step-by-step from a local demonstration project to a regional Hydrogen Valley with European funding is a promising path for future projects as well. It pays off to break down your project/Valley into stages or phases – and proceed from one to another learning-by-doing-mode. Think smaller and very practical at first – and then think successively bigger and bigger. This also ensures that you can show real results that speak for themselves – before moving on and building on them. This is how we have been successfully developing our projects from small-scale local demonstration of green hydrogen for mobility applications to turning a major European transport corridor into a Hydrogen Valley.
Further, our main advice from experience is to concentrate your efforts on and ensure high commitment for mastering supranational public funding. This actually means relatively basic, but no less crucial things: always closely following the content of the call for proposals, never losing the scope of the call out of sight and most importantly, trying to empathize with the funding organisation: How will the specific parts of an application be evaluated? Which approach is advantageous for the overall project evaluation? How are the specific expectations of the call addressed? This also means remaining flexible enough to adjust your project scope to the specific requirements of the funding.