The Conservative Party conference featured several hydrogen presentations, with Boris Johnson even referencing the technology in his keynote speech.
The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) hosted a discussion on the potential role for hydrogen. Nadhim Zahawi, Undersecretary of State for BEIS, opened the session by stating that low carbon hydrogen is a key priority for BEIS and it could be a real “game changer” in the net zero transition. He was upbeat at prospects for financing projects, arguing that clean growth developments are attracting competitive finance opportunities that are not matched in other sectors. He alluded to a potential Contracts for Difference scheme in the future but then switched to speaking about the ‘imminent’ publication of the Energy White Paper, the Transport Decarbonisation Plan and the Hydrogen Strategy set to be published in first quarter of 2021.
Robert Colvile, director at CPS, briefly discussed the economic and environmental roles for hydrogen, flagging transport and heating as essential targets. He stated that the convenient refuelling opportunities for heavy transport make it a particular area of interest. Jo Bamford of Ryse Hydrogen extended this point, advising that if consumers are to support the mass roll out of hydrogen fuelled transport, it must provide the same convenience and achieve cost parity in the near term. To achieve cost parity, there needs to be early investment in the supply chain to facilitate domestic manufacturing and strong policy direction from the Department for Transport.
Contrasting hydrogen and EV buses being used to replace diesel vehicles, Bamford highlighted how a typical electric bus will take 4 hours to charge and be able to cover 60% of diesel bus range, whereas the hydrogen equivalent could provide 95% of the diesel bus range and be refuelled in around 20 minutes. While this is a strong case in favour of hydrogen buses, he flagged that hydrogen for buses currently costs around £6/kilo, work to increase hydrogen production capacity needs to be done in order to drive fuel costs down. In addition, Bamford questioned why hydrogen is not yet included under the Bus Service Operator Grant when the funds can still be put towards diesel vehicles.
The Cadent-sponsored event on how to unleash the hydrogen economy featured Ben Houchen, Mayor of the Tees Valley combined authority, discussing plans to create Teeside as the UK’s first hydrogen transport hub, with ambitions to also look at cross-country haulage and shipping. He discussed how the chemical and processing industries in Teeside have been using hydrogen for decades and around 10 tonnes of hydrogen are currently produced per week in the area.
Tom Bradley of Cadent highlighted two key asks of government that could be essential in accelerating a transition to hydrogen. Firstly, the need to develop relevant regulation to allow demonstrator-scale solutions to be applied at the national level, for example increasing the allowed hydrogen blend in the gas network up to 20% in line with HyDeploy study. Secondly, the important role that can be played in joining up local authorities with relevant producers of hydrogen transport solutions. In addition, Bradley flagged that guidance on how to treat refuelling hubs under planning regimes could also remove an important obstacle to increased hydrogen uptake.
In response to questions posed to the panel regarding a 100% hydrogen future, Bradley stated that Cadent are future-proofing now to ensure new pipes installed are capable of transporting 100% hydrogen. In line with this, Jacob Young MP, chair of the hydrogen APPG, raised that gas blends with over 20% hydrogen would require the installation of hydrogen-ready appliances. To ensure a smooth transition for heating, H2-ready boiler installations need to commence as soon as possible.
These discussions on hydrogen and the speakers’ ambitions for a hydrogen future are encouraging but we still await precise policy ambitions and the hydrogen strategy document expected in early 2021.