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Advancing Hydrogen: from nascent and potential to commercial and flourishing

The hydrogen revolution is on the verge of commercialisation. The world is waking up to the exciting prospects of hydrogen and a greener future is closer than ever.

The Climate Change Committee aims for the UK to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Taking advantage of the most abundant element found on the planet is a viable and logical route to achieving that goal. In recent years the UK Hydrogen market has been gathering momentum in different sectors. The sectors range from decarbonising industry, transport and heating. Regions all over the UK are investing in hydrogen. As part of their 2020-2021 budgets the Scottish Government announced that they would be allocating 10 million pounds to support hydrogen heat demonstrator projects. Hydrogen powered transportation has also started up in Scotland. Aberdeen is producing hydrogen from electricity and is using it to fuel buses and other vehicles. This confirms that the Scottish Government is committed to reducing emissions and see how hydrogen is an integral part achieving this.

Momentum is also being gathered in the heat sector as the first prototype hydrogen gas boilers were launched earlier this year and are currently being used for testing. Leading boiler manufactures believe it is possible to retrofit the UK’s existing gas infrastructure for hydrogen power which provides a low carbon alternative. Using existing pipework defrays some of the time scales for decommissioning disadvantageous assets and allows the nation to cost effectively repurpose and reutilise the existing assets. It is said that the “full commercial rollout of ‘hydrogen-ready’ boilers is still a few years away”. Utilities companies believe hydrogen is the future of heating but the biggest challenge is the commercial demand. “Hydrogen could heat homes at a similar cost to heat pumps” but without an increasing demand the price of producing a cost effective hydrogen supply is unachievable. Backing from the UK Government is necessary for hydrogen implementation.

The large scale production of hydrogen cannot happen without a demand to match. A report written by ARUP (2020) explored where this demand could come from. The report found that a major issue was the lack of confidence “in the capability of industry”. The hydrogen market, though emerging is still nascent in nature. Without affordable costs but most importantly confidence, “consumers and public and private sector buyers will be reluctant to purchase hydrogen products”. In order to motivate market and energy users to adapt you must first inspire trust. The report suggests placing an obligation on energy companies to supply increasing amounts of decarbonised gas, such as hydrogen, like it has been done for renewable electricity (government initiative). By blending as little as 20% (by volume) hydrogen with traditional gas still delivers 5% carbon savings and this is viable for implementation right now. “Introducing the 20% hydrogen blend could save about 6m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, the equivalent of taking 2.5m cars off the road”.

Moreover, in order to establish hydrogen in the UK energy system the government must play a major role. “The perception of hydrogen must change so it is seen as a trusted alternative to current fuels and as a means to decarbonise. A strong narrative is required around how hydrogen can deliver benefits to consumers and value to investors”. This narrative must be spearheaded by the UK Government. At this current time the prospects surrounding the hydrogen economy are still unknown to most consumers and investors. If more people were aware of the contribution hydrogen could make towards meeting 2050 net zero emission targets, improving air quality, reducing noise pollution, educating the younger generation about a cleaner future and upskilling the industry they would be more likely to make the transition from using harmful fuel sources to using a low carbon alternative. Policymakers are responsible for delivering sustainable strategies to the public. The public need to understand that remaining with the status quo is not an option because of the implications it will have in the future. This must be done to evoke the action necessary to meet “the legally binding Climate Change Act targets” and avoid “higher costs in the longer term and a burden to future generations”. Without clear policies and implementation change will not happen.


Foresight Hydrogen 2020 - Webinar Series will be exploring Hydrogen policy and strategy, Hydrogen production and storage, decarbonising industry and homes and powering transport


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