Britain must double hydrogen production to meet net-zero target

Energy groups challenge government's target of producing 5 gigawatts by 2030

The Bacton Gas Terminal in the UK. The energy centre could become a major hydrogen producer in the coming decades, potentially supplying London and helping the nation meet its clean energy targets. Bloomberg
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Britain must double its targets for producing low-carbon hydrogen by 2030 if the country wants to reach its net-zero emissions goal, according to industry groups.

UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson pledged last year to produce 5 gigawatts of low-carbon hydrogen in the country by the end of this decade, a plan the government claims is “among the most ambitious in the world".

The pledge was part of Mr Johnson's 10-point plan for a “green industrial revolution”, unveiled in November last year, with a £12 billion budget set aside to fund the transition.

The government said its hydrogen target is the equivalent to the amount of gas consumed by more than 3 million households.

However, industry groups that back the switch to hydrogen say the 5-gigawatt target does not go far enough with other countries and regions, including the EU, pushing ahead with more ambitious hydrogen projects.

Ed Gill, a project leader at the Energy Networks Association, said if hydrogen is set to play a large part in Britain’s bid to reach net zero by 2050, then the targets need to be escalated.

“We need to target 10 gigawatts of hydrogen production by 2030,” Mr Gill told The National. “We need that target to not only ensure the country is producing enough hydrogen but to also build the grid infrastructure that will be required to deliver it to our homes and businesses, to reduce their emissions and our heavy industry in particular.”

This view was supported by Danielle Stewart, programme manager at the National Grid, who said a target above 5 gigawatts is achievable “with the right framework in place”.

Both organisations will be keeping a close eye on the government’s Hydrogen Strategy — set for release in the coming weeks — which industry groups hope will align with their thinking and ensure more ambitious targets are put in place.

Mr Gill said it is vital that the Hydrogen Strategy recognises the role that energy networks have in enabling hydrogen production, “through hydrogen blending, innovation investment and infrastructure development, rather than just focusing on hydrogen production in its own right.”

This is necessary to ensure the right decisions are made through the price control process by Ofgem, the industry's regulator, he said.

“For energy networks, a higher target will provide the direction that Ofgem needs for hydrogen network innovation and investment decisions through the price control process, ensuring that our grid infrastructure acts as the platform upon which our hydrogen economy is built,” Mr Gill said.

A number of countries are considering hydrogen as an alternative energy source. As the most common element in the universe, it only releases heat and water when it is burnt, unlike fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and other noxious pollutants, including oxides of nitrogen.

As a result it is a suitable resource to generate clean energy directly in battery-like devices called fuel cells.

If the government pushes ahead with higher targets, utilities such as the National Grid will be looking for more support, in their case for backing a 2,000-kilometre network of hydrogen pipelines linking the industrial parts of Britain.

More than 130 large-scale hydrogen projects have been announced globally since February, according to a July report from the lobby group the Hydrogen Council, with most of those in Europe.

“Although Europe and East Asia continue to lead on hydrogen, the mentality shift is now spreading far beyond, with more and more governments and companies embracing stricter emission standards by moving into cleaner technology,” Amy Adams, vice president for fuel cell and hydrogen technology at Cummins and Hydrogen Council member, said last month.

“To maximise hydrogen’s contribution to a world with net zero emissions, consumption should increase to 212 million metric tons by 2030 — more than double today’s levels, and industry should lead the way.”

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson’s green ambitions have been plunged into chaos in the run up to the Cop26 environmental summit in Glasgow in November amid fears that the costs of reaching net zero could be too expensive for lower income families.

The delay of a Treasury review of the costs of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 raises concerns that the analysis will highlight the hit to poorer households, which will involve policies such as replacing gas boilers and switching to electric or hydrogen cars.

The hydrogen strategy is also expected to include research on financing mechanisms to stimulate hydrogen production, including adding a surcharge to consumer gas bills to subsidise early low-carbon hydrogen production initiatives.

Updated: October 07, 2021, 12:00 PM