What does the recent surge of support for hydrogen mean for the energy industry? And is it really the key to Britain’s green recovery?
Hydrogen played a key role in the 10 point green plan Boris Johnson laid out on Tuesday, 17 November. The plan proposes to generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, which is enough to power around 1.5 million homes. This would be used mainly to decarbonise industry, transport, and heating. To deliver this, the Prime Minister has pledged up to £500 million for hydrogen development. £240 million of this will go towards new hydrogen production facilities.
The plan also aims to develop the first town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade. This is already underway in Scotland, where 300 homes will become the first in the world to use 100% green hydrogen.
Is there enough focus on green hydrogen?
At the moment most of the world’s hydrogen is grey. This is because it is produced using natural gas, which makes it the cheapest option. However, if IEA’s predictions are correct, gas prices will rise over the next decade while renewable technology prices fall. This, along with the rising cost of CO2 emissions and the ramping up of renewables, might make green hydrogen a key part of the future energy landscape.
Chris Jackson, Chair of the UK Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Association, said in response to the Prime Ministers announcement, “It is essential that the UK capitalises on its rich expertise and heritage in the production, storage, and use of hydrogen. Especially for hydrogen in the heating sector and for transportation.”
“It is crucial, however, that the government ensures green hydrogen, and notably electrolysis, is front and centre of the hydrogen sector. The ability to use sun, wind, and water to decarbonise the UK energy sector is one of the most tangible examples of how science and innovation can overcome some of the greatest challenges we face.”
This push for clean energy is not a unique position in the industry. Five of the UK’s largest energy companies are now calling for the PM to match US President-elect Joe Biden’s clean energy goals. This would involve slashing the UK’s energy emissions to net zero by 2035.
Achieving this would require drastic and immediate action. We are already seeing promising support for a green transition in the energy sector but it is clear we need stronger propellants. This is where green hydrogen could come in.
What are the benefits of green hydrogen?
It is sustainably produced and completely clean
Green hydrogen is produced by renewable energy sources powering electrolysis, which is the method of separating water into hydrogen and oxygen. When hydrogen is then combined with oxygen in a fuel cell, this produces electricity. Hydrogen doesn’t emit greenhouse gases because the only by-products of hydrogen and oxygen are water and heat.
Global installed electrolyser capacity has grown significantly in recent years, from less than 1 MW in 2010 to more than 25 MW in 2019. The combination of the UK’s recent endorsement of hydrogen production and the ramping up of offshore wind development could greatly influence the feasibility and speed of green hydrogen’s growth.
It has various uses across sectors
Heating our homes contributes to between a quarter and a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Small amounts of hydrogen gas can already be pumped through existing heating grids mixed with natural gas. In the future, hydrogen could transform central heating by replacing natural gas completely.
Hydrogen’s high energy density makes it ideal for heavy-duty transport such as trucks, trains, and even ships. Running these high emitters on clean fuel could make a significant difference. The manufacturing of fuel cell buses and light-duty trucks has greatly increased over recent years. China leads this charge and produces around 98% of the world’s hydrogen buses. These fleets are seeing a rise in investment from all over the world as countries race to reduce their carbon emissions.
The industry sector has the highest hydrogen demand, as refining and steelmaking requires high energy density. At the moment this is almost entirely made up of grey hydrogen. If this was replaced by green hydrogen it would help ramp up demand for electrolysers and significantly slash emissions.
Storage and Energy Stability
Hydrogen can also be used for energy storage, which will be a very important part of a green and flexible energy transition. This also means that hydrogen could provide a solution to one of renewable energy’s biggest issues – consistency. The ability to store solar energy at night or wind power on a still day gives the UK greater energy security and decreased reliance on fossil fuels.
Is it the key to Britain’s Green Recovery?
In short, not quite.
A 2018 report from the Climate Change Committee makes clear that hydrogen is no silver bullet. However, as the technology evolves and the cost of renewable energy falls, many of the disadvantages tied to hydrogen might fall away. Even since 2018, the advancements in clean hydrogen have been remarkable.
Even so, it has become clear that there is no silver bullet for climate change. Support for green hydrogen production is crucial because it could play a huge role in decarbonising the energy sector. But it will be most powerful when used in tandem with other methods and technologies in order to do so. One of its many benefits is that it can be integrated into the current system gradually, helping to lead a flexible energy transformation.
At Monarch, we are dedicated to being a part of the green movement within the energy industry. The clean energy transition will require a sustainable foundation of efficiency and optimisation, and that’s where we come in. We work closely with our clients to reduce their energy waste and find hidden savings in areas of inefficiency. We can also offer green procurement services and advise on carbon compliance.
If you would like a partner in your sustainability journey, contact us at Monarch Partnership.