Government urged to ramp up hydrogen spending through national strategy
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) had called on the Government to implement a Hydrogen Strategy to assist in decarbonising carbon-intensive sectors, in the same week that the National Grid announced plans to build a new hydrogen testing facility.
The EAC received almost 100 responses to a July inquiry on technology advancements to help combat climate change. Respondents were adamant that a national hydrogen strategy would boost confidence in the sector and help organisations and innovators trial new projects.
However, the EAC has written to the Government warning that the level of investment into hydrogen needs to be “much greater”. A public strategy should also be issued to guide investment into hydrogen technologies that contribute towards the nation’s net-zero target.
“The level of investment needed to exploit the opportunities that the UK potentially has, needs to be much greater. Investments need to be aligned to a strategy to guide investments to ensure that they are co-ordinated, and the value is realised from them,” the EAC states in a letter.
“It is clear from the evidence we have heard that to deliver the pace of development and investment needed in the sector a Hydrogen Strategy is urgently needed, particularly if we are to capitalise on the UK’s technology base and direct investment towards the most effective uses of hydrogen. The Autumn Budget and Spending Review seems the ideal time to bring forward a strategy, will the Government commit to this and provide a significant boost to this sustainable fuel to help proceed along the critical path to net-zero?”
Currently, around 95% of global hydrogen production comes from fossil fuel feedstocks. As such, the EAC recognises that any hydrogen spending will need to be integrated with “high levels” of carbon capture to decarbonise the hydrogen.
Fortunately, the Government has taken steps to funnel investment into CCS, committing £800m to establish CCS sites in the mid-2020s and 2030. The EAC also welcomed the recent £139m commitment to cutting emissions in heavy industry through hydrogen and scaling up CCS.
According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), hydrogen and CCS are both “non-optional” components of the UK’s transition to net-zero.
Around 500TWh of hydrogen-generated power could be consumed annually in the UK by 2050 - equivalent to 50% of national demand - provided that ambitious supports from policy and large businesses are put in place, analysis from Aurora Energy Research has found.
RenewableUK expects green hydrogen to “grow exponentially” in the near future, in line with the nation’s 2050 net-zero target. The government awarded 20 projects a share of £7m to explore innovative ways of making and using low-carbon hydrogen last August, then built on this with a £90m pot for decarbonising heavy industry using hydrogen earlier this year. Separately, the UK’s first pilot project injecting zero-carbon hydrogen into an existing gas network recently began at Keele University.
However, the UK’s hydrogen efforts are dwarfed by other countries. The global hydrogen economy is estimated to be worth $2.5trn by 2050 and could support the green recovery by creating 30 million new jobs. The European Union, China, Australia, Japan and South Korea have all implemented national hydrogen strategies.
The call for investment comes as the National Grid has partners with Northern Gas Networks (NGN) and Fluxys Belgium to build an offline hydrogen test facility.
The project is expected to cost £10m and will be delivered by DNV GL, with support provided by the HSE Science Division and academic partnerships with Durham University and the University of Edinburgh. The test facility will be located at DNV GL’s site at Spadeadam, in the city of Carlisle.
Plans have been submitted to Ofgem. If funding is awarded, construction will start in 2021, with blends of hydrogen up to 100% tested at transmission pressures from 2022.
National Grid’s project director for hydrogen Antony Green said: “If we truly want to reach a net-zero decarbonised future, we need to replace methane with green alternatives like hydrogen. Sectors such as heat are difficult to decarbonise, and the importance of the gas networks to the UK’s current energy supply means trial projects like this are crucial if we are to deliver low carbon energy, reliably and safely to all consumers.”