One of the biggest floating solar parks in the world, Huainan (China)
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China’s rapid ascent in offshore wind technology and electrolysis for green hydrogen production sectors is a pressing concern for Europe. The potential geopolitical implications are significant, directly impacting the pace and cost of our energy transition. This urgent issue, highlighted in recent research by TNO and The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS), underscores the need for Europe to act swiftly to reduce strategic dependencies. 

Strong position China wind and electrolysis

The analysis shows that China has almost a monopoly on producing permanent magnets, an essential component of wind turbines. The country has developed enormously in offshore wind technology in recent years and is expected to further strengthen its position on the world stage in the coming years. The electrolysis market has also been developing rapidly in China over the years. The Chinese have focused on alkaline electrolyzers, while Europe is strong in PEM and alkaline technology.

Finding balance in cooperation China

China has a closed market to foreign competitors but expects access to other countries’ markets, which makes other countries dependent on China. Still, the report emphasizes the need to cooperate with China where it can responsibly but avoid unwanted strategic dependencies. China must become dependent on Europe in certain parts of global value chains. 

The choice before Europe is a complex one: to opt for cheaper Chinese electrolyzers or to invest in more expensive, proprietary alternatives for long-term security. This decision must consider the potential risks, as economic relations could abruptly deteriorate due to the global situation. TNO and HCSS argue that governments and businesses alike should carefully weigh these trade-offs at both the national and European levels. This nuanced approach is crucial to avoid unwanted strategic dependencies and ensure the long-term security of Europe’s energy transition.

Restrictive measures from the EU

The EU can take restrictive measures to enforce a level playing field and stimulate its own industry. Tightening standards on safety, quality, working conditions, and environmental standards is one possibility, according to the researchers. As long as China does not open its market, consideration could be given to excluding Chinese companies in major European tenders as well. This would prioritize European companies for vital infrastructure projects related to wind energy and electrolysis. This promotes cooperation inside and outside the EU and ensures the availability of sufficient alternatives to Chinese wind power and electrolyzers.