Hydrogen no cure-all for UK's net-zero target, say MPs

It's still unclear if it can be produced, distributed and used in ways that are compatible with net-zero and cost efficiency, report says

An electricity pylon in Romney, in southern Britain. EPA
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Hydrogen is no “panacea” for the UK to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, MPs have said.

Using hydrogen to replace fossil fuels in the UK's energy system would entail “significant investment in the networks and infrastructure needed to distribute it around the country”, a report from the Commons science and technology committee concluded.

One witness told MPs hydrogen is likely to find a “big niche” where it will play a major role in certain sectors of the economy, and be a “huge growth story” over the next 30 years — but it “will not be everything”.

The committee is asking the government to outline in the next two months points between now and 2050 that will set out in practical terms the role of hydrogen in the UK’s future energy system.

“In our view, multiple changes will be needed to the way we obtain, use and store energy if we are to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Hydrogen will have its place in this portfolio," the report summary says.

“But we do not believe that it will be the panacea to our problems that might sometimes be inferred from the hopes placed on it.

“Essential questions remain to be answered as to how in future large quantities of hydrogen can be produced, distributed and used in ways that are compatible with net zero and cost efficiency.”

Committee chairman Greg Clark said: “Hydrogen can play an important role in decarbonising the UK’s economy, but it is not a panacea.

“There are significant infrastructure challenges associated with converting our energy networks to use hydrogen and uncertainty about when low-carbon hydrogen can be produced at scale at an economical cost.

“But there are important applications for hydrogen in particular industries so it can be, in the words of one witness to our inquiry, ‘a big niche’.

“We welcome the government’s high-level strategy and support of hydrogen trials, but future decisions on the role of hydrogen must increasingly be practical, taking into account what is technically and economically achievable.

“We call on the government to set out a series of decision points, which would give industry the clarity that it needs."

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“A low-carbon hydrogen sector here in the UK will be critical to delivering energy security, economic growth, and our net-zero ambitions," a government representative said.

“We expect to have up to 2GW low-carbon hydrogen projects in construction or operation by 2025, half of which delivered through our CCUS [Carbon capture, use and storage] programme.

"We are supporting this through our £240 million ($292 million) Net Zero Hydrogen Fund, the Hydrogen Production Business Model and the £1 billion CCS Infrastructure Fund.

“The UK has a world-leading ambition for 10GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, with at least half from electrolytic hydrogen, which could unlock 12,000 jobs and £9 billion in private investment across the country this decade.

“Hydrogen could play an important role in helping decarbonising heat in buildings, but the government has been clear that a decision on this will not be made until 2026, allowing for full consideration of relevant evidence.”

Updated: December 19, 2022, 12:12 AM