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9 May 2024
Renewable Energy

The Future of Welsh Manufacturing – Seizing the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Sector Opportunity


Guto Owen, 


As Europe advances in the clean technology arena, Wales stands at a crossroads. The continent is bustling with activity, hosting over 400 clean tech manufacturing plants, each playing a critical role in their respective technologies, from solar and wind to heat pumps and batteries.

Yet, amidst this bustling scene, Wales must carve out its niche, especially in the burgeoning hydrogen and fuel cell sector. This opportunity is ripe for the taking, but the question remains: will Wales step up to claim its share, or are we content to remain primarily a market for others?

Germany stands as a beacon of what's possible in clean tech. It leads Europe with the highest number of manufacturing facilities in almost all technologies. In wind technology alone, Germany boasts 64 facilities, with Spain and Denmark also demonstrating significant capabilities. Meanwhile, Italy leads in heat pump facilities, and even in emerging sectors like battery technology in which China has the lead and the strong supply chains, Germany and others shows promising focus.

However, amidst these examples lies a golden opportunity for Wales. The hydrogen and fuel cell sector presents a strategic advantage that Wales can, and should, exploit.

Hydrogen technology, vital across a whole range of applications from transport to energy storage to industry & more, is pivotal for a sustainable future. By investing in this sector, Wales can not only contribute to global sustainability efforts but also revitalise its own manufacturing industry, creating jobs and fostering innovation. And building-up resilience against external shocks.

So, why hydrogen and fuel cells?

This sector is still developing compared to more mature clean technologies like solar or wind. And solar and wind are complementary with offshore wind remaining a ripe area for Wales. This means the competition is less entrenched, and the possibilities for innovation and leadership are greater. Wales has a history of industrial innovation and a commitment to sustainability that can be leveraged to build a robust hydrogen economy.

Furthermore, positioning Wales as a leader player in this sector aligns with broader European and global shifts towards cleaner energy sources, ensuring we remain relevant in the evolving economic landscape.

A work in progress, tThe European Clean Tech Tracker from Bruegel hiighlights the disparity in regional specialisations and technological focuses, offering a roadmap for where Wales could direct its efforts.

With targeted investments, strategic partnerships, and a focus on research and development, Wales can establish itself as a key player in hydrogen and fuel cell technology. This is not just about economic growth; it's about sustainable development and securing a resilient future for Welsh industries.

The question for Wales is not just about economic gain but also about strategic positioning. Do we want to lead or follow? The opportunity to own a significant slice of the hydrogen and fuel cell manufacturing sector is still there for the taking, for now. If we hesitate, we risk being perpetual consumers in a market dominated by others, missing the chance to influence the cleantech landscape significantly. Lessons?. We could have been onshore wind contenders; China has long “won” the solar and battery race (although next generation is still in play).

Wales must act decisively and very quickly. It requires not only government action but also the engagement of academia, industry, and the public. It's a multi-faceted approach, involving policy support, investment in technology, and fostering a skilled workforce ready to meet the demands of new industries. The fact that a Welshman, William Grove, invented the fuel cell (in 1842) should inspire us.

As Europe strides forward, Wales must not be left behind. The hydrogen and fuel cell sector offers a unique chance to redefine our industrial base, align with global sustainability goals, and secure a prosperous, resilient economic future.

Let's seize this opportunity before it's too late. Are we content with merely being a market for others' innovations, or will we take the reins and become leaders competitors in thise new green economy race? Make things or buy things? The choice is ours.

Guto Owen is the Director of Ynni Glan. He has many years of experience in developing clean energy and environmental projects to include fuel cells and hydrogen. Ynni Glan advises clients on developing renewable energy and low carbon technology projects. He managed the Carmarthenshire Energy Agency, which raised over £1.5mn of European funding for community renewable energy projects. He is Coordinator of HyCymru. @GutoOwenH2 @HyCymru

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