Hydrogen East welcomes and strongly supports the new commitment in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution issued on 18 November, including the key role envisaged for hydrogen.
Hydrogen East was formed in summer 2020 to research, analyse and promote pathways for development of a hydrogen economy that connects supply and demand in East Anglia, and support delivery of other regional economic and clean growth priorities.
We have reached out over the past few months to many local stakeholders, many of whom have expressed warm support for a more “joined up” approach to hydrogen development based on detailed analysis of regional resources, capabilities and opportunities, and we have hit the ground running.
Significance of hydrogen
Hydrogen is an extremely versatile energy vector with multiple applications across power generation, heat, transport, industry and agriculture, and it can also deliver significant carbon emission reductions to the regional economy despite the limited local presence of major industrial loads. Its development provides an important opportunity to ‘build back better’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, to secure jobs and investment, especially following the downturn in the oil and gas sector, and to accelerate the Net Zero transition.
Increased electrification will have a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but complete electrification is neither possible, nor desirable, as electricity networks are not infinite. Greater energy efficiency, lifestyle changes and process innovation will also all be important, but full decarbonisation will require green gases that can provide seasonal energy storage, smooth the integration of variable renewable power assets and surpluses at times of low demand into the grid, decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors, and provide higher energy densities for freight and heavy transport applications.
Hydrogen deployment on scale is an important – indeed vital – piece of the toolkit for policymakers seeking to deliver the energy transition by 2050. The Local Industrial Strategy published by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership in 2018 also sets a clear overriding objective for the region to become the UK’s clean growth region. We therefore strongly support the new commitment in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution issued on 18 November to develop 5GW of hydrogen production capacity by 2030 and the formal adoption by the Government of strategies that should see hydrogen make a significant contribution to delivery of Net Zero by 2050.
To meet these ambitions the sector now requires a joined-up dialogue between central and local stakeholders, working with industry and consumers to scope regional hydrogen supply and demand opportunities and meet these goals.
Our immediate priorities
Hydrogen East is initially scoping four developmental clusters or “hubs” across East Anglia, with hydrogen acting as a catalyst in each case:
- at the Bacton gas terminal and the surrounding Southern North Sea, enabling the site to become a focal point for distribution of hydrogen to the regional – and potentially national and international – markets
- we will also examine potential opportunities in the Leiston area of Suffolk triggered by the existing Sizewell site and construction of a major new generation facility, in conjunction with the existing Net Zero Leiston project and the planned SuNRISE “Strength in Places” project along the East Coast
- we are also exploring a suite of place-based actions in the surrounding areas of East Anglia to aggregate heavy transport and agriculture demand and decarbonise it based on increased local hydrogen supply raising from the first two projects, and are examining a Clean Transport Hub concept based around local clusters
- we are using our extensive mapping work to identify best candidates for developing thinking around a community-focused “hydrogen neighbourhood” from 2023 and then “hydrogen town” for 2025, and to scope the necessary work with local stakeholders to form the basis for a proposal into this competition when it is launched.
By integrating the production and use of hydrogen alongside repurposed but also new energy and transport assets, we hope to build a regional template that can demonstrate leadership to other initiatives elsewhere in the UK.
East Anglia: A regional powerhouse
The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan already highlights the importance of hydrogen within the government’s decarbonisation strategy and its new, more stringent targets for 2030. Countries such as France, Germany, Norway and most recently Spain have already announced ambitious support packages and development programmes, so the race is on.
This region has an ideal opportunity to fully participate in the journey to delivering a new hydrogen economy in the UK because:
- over 50% of the current operational offshore wind fleet is already off the coast of East Anglia, and the region’s contribution to delivering the 40GW target by 2030 should grow. Integrating hydrogen production can allow significant amounts of energy to be captured and stored, rather than curtailed
- Bacton currently accounts for the entry of about 30% of the UK’s gas, and East Anglia’s current gas interconnections with Europe mean that it has a major advantage that could see the region export hydrogen not just to other UK regions but potentially internationally into the “European Hydrogen Backbone” project in the future, as industrial demand for hydrogen grows rapidly across Europe, and
- the impact of progressive decommissioning of UKCS oil and gas activity can be ameliorated by providing opportunities to repurpose existing infrastructure, including the early deployment of Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage, and retain highly and grow skilled jobs in the region.
Building on the foundations
In alignment with recent calls by the UKHFCA Coordination Forum, we feel that seven key policy actions would help the hydrogen sector to better deliver against the 2030 target and the UK’s 2050 Net Zero commitments:
- now we have a public and unqualified government statement of support for hydrogen as a key part of the transition to Net Zero, we need to translate that into a credible and clearly articulated strategy incorporating longer-term targets for deployment and look forward to the promised strategy in the new year
- development of a support programme for the manufacture and deployment of UK fuel cell and related technologies that matches world-class technology with investors of scale, and proper assessment of supply chain needs across the hydrogen sector, to create globally competitive businesses
- recognition within the work of the newly established Green Skills Taskforce of how existing resources within the oil and gas sectors can be redeployed, and early identification of how the skills agenda needs to be broadened in the new hydrogen economy
- a commitment from government departments to ensure that any mechanisms to support the supply of hydrogen are proportionally balanced by measures to meet demand for hydrogen domestically and internationally
- a move away from relying on competition between regions for funding, and towards providing support for well-managed initiatives that encourage joined up, innovative and collaborative mechanisms, along with integration of energy and transport infrastructure
- a clear updated framework of duties within which regulators must operate that recognises the important potential contribution of hydrogen, detailing which agencies will be responsible for the various components of the industry as it develops, and
- more transparency around the objectives and work of the Hydrogen Advisory Council and a commitment to ensure the wider perspectives of the UK’s hydrogen supply chain and regional stakeholders are reflected in key policy decisions.
We hope that this short statement illustrates why we believe there is enormous potential for development of a regional hydrogen economy in East Anglia. We would of course be happy to discuss the regional opportunities in greater detail with all interested stakeholders and we invite you to engage with our exciting programme of work as it progresses from concept to scoping, definition and implementation.
Nigel Cornwall/Johnathan Reynolds
Hydrogen East, 19 November 2020