Hydrogen is great, says new report

Hydrogen is key to UK’s low-carbon economy, says Committee on Climate Change

Image credit: Committee on Climate Change

Hydrogen is a credible option to help decarbonise the UK energy system, but the Government must commit to developing a low-carbon heat strategy within the next three years, according to a new report from the Committee on Climate Change.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an executive non-departmental public body, advises the government on emissions targets and reports to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In its latest report, published today, the CCC has said that hydrogen is a credible option to help decarbonise the UK energy system, but any potential future role depends on early Government commitment and improved support to develop the UK’s industrial capability.

The report also states that if hydrogen can be combined with greater energy efficiency, cheap low-carbon power generation, electrified transport and new ‘hybrid’ heat-pump systems - all of which have already been successfully trialed in the UK - hydrogen can make an important contribution to long-term decarbonisation.

Hydrogen could also replace natural gas in parts of the energy system, where electrification is not feasible or is prohibitively expensive, for example in providing heat on colder winter days, industrial heat processes and back-up power generation.

The report’s key recommendations are:

  •     Government must commit to developing a low-carbon heat strategy within the next three years.
  •     Significant volumes of low-carbon hydrogen should be produced in a carbon capture and storage (CCS) ‘cluster’ by 2030 to help the industry grow.
  •     Government must support the early demonstration of the everyday uses of hydrogen in order to establish the practicality of switching from natural gas to hydrogen.
  •     There is low awareness amongst the general public of reasons to move away from natural-gas heating to low-carbon alternatives.
  •     A strategy should be developed for low-carbon heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) which encourages a move away from fossil fuels and biofuels to zero-emission solutions by 2050.

The report is available as a free download from the CCC web site.

The potential of hydrogen as a zero-carbon energy source has always been recognised, yet in previous assessments it has been impractical or overly expensive to roll out at scale. The report finds hydrogen could replace natural gas in parts of the energy system, where electrification is not feasible or is prohibitively expensive, for example in providing heat on colder winter days, industrial heat processes and for back-up power generation.

There remain significant obstacles to the decarbonisation of industry, transportation and heat, despite the advances arising from the UK’s focus on cleaning up electricity generation over the last decade. A combination of energy efficiency and the electrification of the economy can continue to reduce UK emissions substantially. However, this is not enough to reach full decarbonisation in every sector.

The report also makes it clear that hydrogen is not a ‘silver bullet’ solution and should ideally be considered in a supporting role in the reduction of carbon across all sectors. The report examines some common misconceptions, such as the impracticality of switching the gas grid to 100 per cent hydrogen; the prohibitive expense of producing bulk hydrogen from renewable electricity, and the fact that hydrogen from fossil fuels is not zero-carbon, even when using carbon capture and storage (CCS).

CCC chairman Lord Deben said: “Hydrogen has the potential to contribute to near-zero-carbon energy emissions if used strategically. The Government must now decide whether it wishes to develop a UK hydrogen option, taking decisions now that will see the first deployment in the 2020s.

“This must be in parallel with efforts to improve energy efficiency, build further low-cost renewables and get carbon capture and storage underway. The time for the Government to move from theory to practice has arrived.

“Most exciting of all is the prospect of producing low-carbon heat; using smart hybrid heat pumps in combination with natural gas in the short-term, with the potential for hydrogen in the long-term.

“The future now rests on Government making a quick decision and fully committing to low-carbon heat within the next three years. This is important to achieving the existing 2050 emissions target, but even more important as we consider whether it is possible for the UK to reach ‘net-zero’ emissions in the future.”

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