Hydrogen presents the UK with a clear opportunity to become one of the first nations to integrate this clean energy on a national scale, according to a recent All Part Parliamentary Group (APPG) report on the application of the gas. Produced primarily by electrolysis of water or by reforming methane, where the carbon dioxide generated can be captured and stored, hydrogen can be combusted in a way that produces no greenhouse gas emissions.
Jacob Young, MP, commented, “The UK Government was the first world leader to boldly establish a 2050 net-zero carbon target, but our ambitions will be unachievable without embracing hydrogen as an alternative fuel. The longer we wait to develop our hydrogen strategy, the more difficult achieving net-zero becomes. We believe that hydrogen is the solution to decarbonisation.”
Amongst a list of recommendations, the report sets out several key requirements to establish a working timeline for the delivering of a hydrogen infrastructure that can enable the UK to achieve net-zero by 2050.
The first is to invest in developing the first Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) network by 2025, in line with the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto commitment. The Government made new commitments to that process last month with a new £350 million package targeting carbon emissions from the construction, transport and heavy industry sectors, which in part will support CCS development.
Critically, the report also recommends establishing interim targets for low-carbon hydrogen production to be set by 2030. Alongside this would be the introduction of a Low Carbon Obligation which would be critical in the enabling investment in low carbon forms of heating such as hydrogen, as well as heat pumps and hybrid systems.
In terms of hydrogen research and development, the UK has been taking the lead with trial projects like HyDeploy and Hy4Heat, which bodes well for a smoother transfer to low-carbon hydrogen-based heating, essential for a dependable and affordable future energy mix. Despite this, the Government has yet to clarify its stance for the commercial sector. A notable failure to show support for hybrid systems is particularly vexing, as these systems must be recognised as a bridging mechanism for commercial organisations awaiting the roll-out of hydrogen. This is why the introduction of a Low Carbon Obligation, as proposed by the report, is so important.
Truly ‘Green Hydrogen,’ is produced by electrolysis using renewable electricity, but currently, neither solar nor wind power have the existing infrastructure for large-scale green hydrogen production to work. As a result, ‘Blue Hydrogen’, which takes carbon dioxide from the hydrogen making process and uses carbon capture and storage (CCS) to contain this, while not fully green, is a “leaner” version that is the first step in a new direction for national gas deployment for heating purposes. Using CCS technology should still allow for the capture up to 95% of the carbon dioxide emissions produced from the use of fossil fuels in energy generation, preventing it from entering the atmosphere and damaging the environment.
The report recognises the important role that Blue Hydrogen projects play in supporting the reduction of carbon emissions in the immediate future. The hope is that if the Government shows active support for, and promotes Blue Hydrogen as a valid steppingstone, it will also have to recognise and support not only heat pumps, but also hybrid solutions. Hybrid systems represent a necessary and realistic route for the commercial sector which otherwise faces a continued lack of clarity that will inherently lead to considerable additional refurbishment costs as they shift find themselves coerced into shifting from one preferred ‘green’ technology to the next, and possibly back again, over the coming 15 to 20 years.
The commercial built environment remains a considerable factor in the generation of carbon emissions in the UK. Improved clarity and guidance from the Government has to come further up the agenda, and sooner rather than later, if organisations are to embrace and actively support development within new and existing buildings that will contribute to attaining net-zero by 2050.