Five key things to consider when mapping out your business’s hydrogen future
With the UK targeting 10GW of blue and green hydrogen production capacity by 2030, many businesses are starting to think about how they should prepare to use hydrogen to meet the aims of their decarbonisation plans. Here, edie outlines five key considerations.
Last month, the UK Government doubled its target for domestic low-carbon hydrogen production. Just last year, it announced an ambition for the UK to host 5GW of production capacity by 2030, and this was boosted to 10GW through the Energy Security Strategy.
With the UK and Europe on the cusp of a major increase in low-carbon hydrogen production, discussions about when and where this hydrogen will be used has been gathering momentum. As it produces no greenhouse gas emissions at the point of use, hydrogen is being explored as a way to mitigate emissions from hard-to-abate sectors including heating, heavy industry, rail, heavy road transport and shipping.
To help businesses which may be suited to using hydrogen as part of their net-zero transition understand how to proceed, edie recently hosted a 45-Minute Masterclass on the topic n association with Centrica Business Solutions. The session, which originally aired on Thursday 12 May and is now available to watch on-demand, was hosted by edie’s content editor Matt Mace and Centrica Business Solutions’ head of hydrogen William Mezzullo.
In this article, we’ve pulled out some of the Masterclass’s key discussion points, outlining five key things your organisation will need to consider when exploring hydrogen use.
Now is the best time to start mapping potential hydrogen use pathways
The sheer number of professionals to have registered for this event, and the fact that audience members asked more than 50 questions in 45 minutes, shows that many are already looking to understand the role that hydrogen usage could play in decarbonising their organisations’ value chains.
“Even though policy is pointing R&D financial flows towards hydrogen production, we at edie are only just starting to see business cases of hydrogen being used as a solution,” Mace said as he introduced the session, citing Quorn Foods and Jaguar Land Rover as examples.
While low-carbon production is yet to scale up in the UK, Mezzullo stated that, because broad policy signals have laid the foundation for the rapid scaling of hydrogen production this decade, businesses looking to use hydrogen would do well to explore how sooner rather than later. The recent Energy Security Strategy targets 10GW of low-carbon hydrogen generation capacity in the UK by 2030 – a doubling of the previous target.
Mezzullo said: “This is definitely a time for exploration… look at all your energy consumption pathways in your business, meaning not just electricity and heat, but also mobility. Then, you can understand where hydrogen can really work and understand timeframes.”
Baselining energy consumption and mapping future pathways is an activity which can be completed in-house or with the help of a third-party expert partner.
“The best way to describe hydrogen is like a Swiss army knife of decarbonisation,” Mezzullo added. “It can help so many different parts of the value chain.”
Depending on their size and sector, businesses may wish to explore hydrogen for the decarbonisation of their building heating, industrial processes, heavy road transport fleets, rail fleets or aviation. They may also wish to support the scaling of hydrogen as a means of long-duration energy storage, as per this article’s fifth and final point.
Look more closely at the hydrogen rainbow
Around 95% of the hydrogen produced globally at present is ‘grey’, meaning that it is manufactured using unabated fossil fuels. While hydrogen produces no greenhouse gas emissions at the point of combustion, grey hydrogen cannot be considered a low-carbon solution due to its emissions impact across its lifecycle.
As such, alternative, lower-carbon methods of production will need to scale. Alternative production methods include blue hydrogen (using natural gas and man-made carbon capture technologies); green hydrogen (running water through electrolysers powered by renewable electricity) and pink hydrogen (running water through electrolysers powered by nuclear).
During the Masterclass, several questions were raised about how we can ensure that alternative hydrogen production methods are truly low-carbon and that they don’t cause any unintended environmental consequences. Some organisations are critical of blue hydrogen, as man-made carbon capture technologies are still in their relative infancy at a commercial scale.
The UK Government has chosen to support blue and green hydrogen production this decade in a “twin-track” approach, under which at least half of new capacity will need to be green. Mezzullo assured listeners that, whether hydrogen is blue or green, it will need to meet the Government’s low-emission standard to receive public financing.
He also argued that it would be unwise to skip past blue hydrogen and go straight to green, as blue is currently easier to scale economically and will provide a reduction in emissions at the point of use.
When in doubt, organisations looking to use hydrogen should ask producers they are considering sourcing from for more information that which ‘colour’ their hydrogen is, Mezzullo advised. He urged these organisations to ask for in-depth detail on lifecycle emissions.
Be aware that hydrogen is not a silver bullet
While there is a lot of hype around hydrogen, Mezzullo stated that it’s “hard not to see a mix of solutions” contributing to the decarbonisation of hard-to-abate activities related to heating and transportation. He emphasised that most organisations – especially those in the highest-emission and hardest-to-abate sectors – will need to consider whether electrification and renewables, or other alternative fuels, would be more appropriate than hydrogen.
Moreover, Mezzullo emphasised that energy efficiency is needed to form strong foundations for the adoption of any alternative approaches. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that the global rate of progress to improve energy efficiency will need to at least double from 2021 levels to put the world on track for net-zero by 2050.
Rest assured that the right organisations are looking at health and safety – but convincing the public of this may be a challenge
Several of the questions asked during the webinar regarded the safety of hydrogen production and use. Hydrogen is non-toxic but has a wide range of flammable concentrations and burns with a near-invisible flame unless treated. It can also make some metals brittle, meaning that appropriate infrastructure is needed for safe transport and storage.
Addressing these questions, Mezzullo said: “We’ve already been focusing a lot on the safety in the industry.
“The thing I take the most comfort in is that the right people in the industry are focusing on the safety aspect. You’ve got HSE, National Grid and all the natural gas distribution companies… there are differences between hydrogen and other gases, but those differences are manageable.”
“The UK, along with Norway, is pretty unique. We’ve got a strong understanding of how to deal with flammable gases; we’re in a really good position, and I can foresee our expertise being used across Europe.”
On concerns around hydrogen heating from the general public, he added: “Rightly so, the public perception of hydrogen [is still at the stage] where questions are being asked about whether it is dangerous, whether it is explosive and whether they’ll be able to smell leaks. We need to go through stages of making people comfortable.”
The UK Government’s hydrogen village and hydrogen town trials, slated to begin in 2025 and the late 2020s respectively, will form part of efforts to engage the general public.
Consider supporting hydrogen for seasonal energy storage
As well as using hydrogen for the mitigation of emissions from fuel, Mezzullo used his platform on the Masterclass to discuss hydrogen’s potential as a means of energy storage.
In the future, at times when nuclear and/or renewable electricity generation in the UK is greater than demand, the surplus could be used to power electrolysers for the production of green hydrogen. This hydrogen could then be stored. Large-scale demonstration projects are already underway in mainland Europe and the US.
Hydrogen storage provides some benefits that cannot be provided by batteries, it was explained, including longer-duration energy storage potential. Using hydrogen storage could also help to prevent the exploitation of finite battery material resources like lithium.
Mezzullo said that the UK curtailed 4TWh of electricity last year, with a £250m cost to bill payers. 9TWh of curtailment is by 2030 is possible, he added, with a £600m cost. Businesses serious about supporting energy transition policies and technologies, or with commitments to make clean energy affordable to consumers, may wish to consider asking the UK Government to accelerate the delivery of firm plans for scaling hydrogen storage.
Centrica Business Solutions sponsored the 45-Minute Masterclass part of their joint Masters series with edie. Also included in this series are:
- A free-to-download ‘edie Explains’ guide on hydrogen’s role in the net-zero transition, detailing key considerations for organisations of all sizes and key sectors.
- An exclusive episode of edie’s Sustainable Business Covered podcast, including a site tour of the H2H Saltend blue hydrogen production and use project.