The sector is facing changes – this became clear during the general meeting of the National Innovation Program for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP), which took place on June 1st and 2nd 2015 in Berlin. At the same time, however, there is continuity. There is to be a change in the NOW advisory council this summer, for example, as Prof. Dr. Werner Tillmetz will not be standing as Chairman again. Continuity is set to prevail for the project financing, though: Rainer Bomba, State Secretary in the Federal ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), agreed to the medium-term extension of the funding measures until 2018.
On the one hand, the general meeting proved to be of a retrospective nature – with an interim evaluation being made of the previous nine years, and almost 60 speakers reporting in detail about their current projects over the course of the two days. On the other hand, the event also served as a platform for discussing the future of the NIP. Accordingly, the configuration of the NIP 2.0 was also a key topic in the conference room at the Marriott Hotel at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin during the opening speeches.
The Chairman of the Advisory Council, Prof. Werner Tillmetz, clarified his views on the NIP in his welcoming speech: “the chances for the continuation look very good.” In his eagerly awaited presentation, Rainer Bomba confirmed that his ministry continues to believe in the future of hydrogen and fuel cell technology, and is working towards a continuation of the funding measures. He told the auditorium clearly: “despite all of the gloomy predictions, I can tell you that this technology will prevail.” And he continued by saying that “the NIP is a successful model. The funding has been put to full use – it is not like this with every project.”
Discussing the financing of a follow-up project to the NIP 1.0, Bomba said: “we have been very successful with the budgetary negotiations. The topic of NIP is secure for the years to come.” He also made it clear that it may be possible for yet more financial resources to be made available if – as with the NIP 1.0 – the industry confirms that it also wishes to carry out significant investments.
As Prof. Tillmetz reported, it has proven possible to secure funding from the supplementary budget for 2016, 2017 and 2018. He therefore confirmed that “the continuation of the NIP is anchored in the federal budget.” He went on to say that: “things are going to plan, things are going very well.” Bomba specified that a total of EUR 161 million are also available in addition to the current NIP for the market activation: 25 million for 2016, 50 million for 2017 and EUR 86 million for 2018. According to his comments, this will mean that the previous and approaching funding programs will overlap, which will bring a sense of continuity to the sector. He also referred to additional funding projects which are being initiated by the BMUB, the BMBF and by individual federal states.
The State Secretary also said that “we have succeeded in developing new strategic focal points from the current configuration of the program and to implement them. This flexibility is possible because the worlds of politics, industry and science are coordinating their work closely via the NOW interfaces.” Contrary to his impatient comments in recent years, in which he repeatedly requested industry to finally deliver the goods, this time he said he is now thinking in terms of decades rather than weeks. He said: “we have to deal with different time scales in this area.”
When asked by H2-international about how long the market launch phase should last, Bonhoff and Tillmetz explained that the market launch did not have to be completed after three years. According to the strategic paper from the NOW advisory council, ten years have been calculated.
Uwe Beckmeyer, Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) explained: “the NIP is a special program. […] I am very confident that it will remain part of a further strategy.” The BMWi is yet to have made a definitive statement, however. Since the topics are already anchored in the 6th Energy Research Program, it is now a question of “how” and “how much” rather than “if”.
Dr. Klaus Bonhoff, the Director of NOW GmbH, drew a largely positive interim assessment during his speech. He reported that it had been possible to develop a sector which including supplier companies, now consists of around 500 industrial companies. Foreign investors have been attracted and strategic alliances have developed. In addition to this, the first products are on the market and renewable energy in the form of CO2-free hydrogen is now on sale. He said: “today we are at the start of the market launch […]. We can’t let up now.”
When asked about his personal future by H2-international, Prof. Tillmetz explained that a new appointment was already on the agenda for the next meeting of the Advisory Council. He has explained that he would like to continue on the Advisory Council but that he wants to hand the position of Chairman “over to a new pair of hands with NIP 2.” “It is now time for the younger generation,” explained Tillmetz. He didn’t name any names, however, and only said that his successor would be “one of his colleagues.