Building back better: Embracing opportunity in a time of crisis

Building back better: Embracing opportunity in a time of crisis

Following the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, much of society continues to reel following a year unabating crises. Yet, as many sectors strive to restore business-as-usual, others are embracing the pandemic as a chance to start anew. Raffinerie Heide CEO, Jürgen Wollschläger, provides insights on how businesses can leverage the setbacks of the pandemic to ‘build back better’, and help lay the foundation for a cleaner, more sustainable future.

The past year has been defined by disruption, uncertainty and loss for most around the world, including businesses, many of which faced considerable obstacles following the global economic slowdown. At Raffinerie Heide, though we are seeing a consistent increase in demand as economies slowly begin to re-open, we remain wary of the prospect of a potential ‘fourth wave’ and continue to identify opportunities to boost our resilience in a post-Covid world.

As the dust settles following our tentative emergence from the pandemic, society remains confronted by an even greater threat – the climate crisis. With emissions quickly rebounding as lockdowns lift, and the recent IPCC report sounding the loudest call yet to accelerate the energy transition, the pressure is mounting for more immediate climate action.

A climate-driven economic recovery

The OECD estimates that almost $336bn has been allocated to green recovery measures across the world, with the pandemic being used by many to draw a line in the sand on emission intensive energy systems. Such measures epitomise the popular ‘build back better’ maxim, with global recovery efforts adopting a progressive, dual-pronged approach – confronting both the challenges of stimulating economic growth whilst driving forward a more sustainable future.

The EU, for example, announced a €2 trillion economic stimulus package, with a third of funds dedicated to decarbonisation and the protection of natural ecosystems.

A key component of the EU’s stimulus package was its hydrogen strategy, which aims to increase hydrogen production to over 10 million tonnes per year by 2030. Germany swiftly followed suit on such efforts, announcing its own hydrogen strategy last year – positioning the country at the vanguard of green hydrogen development with a vision for production on an industrial scale.

To further demonstrate the current global green momentum – specifically via hydrogen – this year’s Tokyo Olympics were set to be the world’s first ‘Hydrogen Olympics’, comprised of 100 hydrogen-powered fuel-cell buses, 500 hydrogen cars, and a hydrogen-powered cauldron used to light the torch itself. Though pandemic delays ultimately limited the scale of the Games’ green potential, its plans indicate that there is clear ambition to scale up clean technologies.

So, what does clean growth look like in practice?

Despite the setbacks the world has faced, society at large is ready to build back better than ever before, with green hydrogen set to play a leading role in the post-Covid economy. At Raffinerie Heide, we have already begun to lay the groundwork for a more sustainable future as we pivot towards becoming a ‘refinery of the future’, leveraging innovation to cement our role in the transition to a low carbon economy.

Our Reallabor Westküste100 project has already received €36 million from the German government. This will enable the construction of a 30MW electrolysis facility to test the feasibility of green hydrogen production. Building on this, our HyScale100 project aims to take Westküste100 to the next level, scaling up from a 30MW to a 500MW electrolyser – moving towards industrial scale green hydrogen production and triggering the decarbonisation of industry, heating, and transport. Having been shortlisted as a European project of common interest earlier this year, HyScale100 is rapidly progressing. If government funding is received, the facility will be operational by the end of 2025 – an ambitious goal designed to make the hydrogen economy a reality.

Through collaboration with our cross-industry partners – including the likes of EDF, Holcim and Ørsted, who are involved in both Westküste100 and HyScale100 – we are poised to contribute significantly to both Germany’s and Europe’s wider green recovery plans and lead the continent in green hydrogen development.

Concluding thoughts

By using the pandemic as an opportunity for reflection, the world has the potential to provide ever greater momentum to the holistic green transformation of our energy systems and focus our recovery efforts on ensuring that the mistakes of the past do not continue to define our future.

At Heide, we have taken advantage of this time to strengthen our efforts to develop green hydrogen infrastructure, and continue to lead the industry when it comes to progressing the low-carbon energy transition.

What is the use of recovery, if not to build back better?

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