ZEV - Zero Emission Valley
What challenges did you face during the project development?
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.
One of the biggest challenges for us was the setup of a commercial structure to be able to procure the hydrogen refueling stations. Another challenge we currently face is the lack of commercially available light duty vehicles on the market. Our project intents to deploy 1,200 fuel cell vehicles in the region and although we have a lot of interest from different sides to procure hydrogen powered fleets, they are just not available.
What specific measures did you take to overcome these challenges?
To set up the commercial structure, we launched the project company HYmpulsion, a company that consists of several different shareholders – among them industrial players, banks as well as the region. The technical, economic and legal discussions took a long time and it proved to be absolutely essential to have the necessary human resources available from all sides to set up this structure.
Since the commercial setup, it has been of great importance to have a dedicated and agreed governance mechanism in place. It is vital that all shareholders commit to their respective responsibilities in the company. For this reason, we advise to put very clear and transparent governance rules in place from the very beginning to ensure successful cooperation.
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.
Besides the procurement and deployment of refueling stations, the project involves the procurement of 1,200 vehicles (e.g. company cars, commercial vans etc.) to create sufficient demand for the hydrogen refueling stations. Due to the lack of availability to date of a variety of light fuel cell vehicles on the market, we are also working on the additional acquisition of heavy vehicles in the region (e.g. buses, trucks, road maintenance trucks, etc.). We are already in discussions with interested industries which plan to procure hydrogen trucks in the future and who would be willing to also cooperate on hydrogen refueling stations. That way, we can show that the refueling stations will be profitable in the future – an expansion in this direction was therefore the right step.
What learnings can other projects take away from your experience?
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.