UK should avoid “twin track” approach, focus on green hydrogen


The UK should focus on clean, green hydrogen and avoid a “twin track” approach where it pursues blue hydrogen as well, according to E3G.

On 29 March, the think tank published Between Hope And Hype – A Hydrogen Vision For The UK, highlighting key considerations for government ahead of its forthcoming Hydrogen Strategy and recommendations of how it can maximise hydrogen’s value. It explained that blue hydrogen is not zero emissions and should not be classed as low carbon, adding that it carries the risk of a lock-in to high carbon infrastructure and jobs. In contrast, the green hydrogen path is where the UK can secure its competitive advantage.

Sourced through harnessing the full potential of the UK’s offshore wind resources, a focus on green hydrogen within targeted sectors and hubs would see multiple government objectives supported, including a green recovery from COVID-19, demonstrating climate leadership and aiding the “levelling up” agenda.

As BEIS develops a strategy to decarbonise and scale-up the hydrogen economy, achieve the 5GW of low carbon hydrogen by 2030, and set the context for further scale-up, E3G explored some of the core factors that should underpin its development. These include considering what the future demand for hydrogen will look like and whether the supply-side can accommodate for this, along with analysis of technical options and likely cost implications of hydrogen in comparison to other pathways for decarbonisation. 

It highlighted the importance of separating industrial and consumer markets. In the former, the choice will be entirely driven by technical and economic factors, and can be thought of as a classic industrial strategy, while in the latter, a strategy for home heating would be dependent on consumer consent as well as reliable technical and real economic advantages or disadvantages. It also stressed the strategy should trigger a race in innovation, while maintaining options until more is known about the feasibility of decarbonisation pathways.

It went on to make a series of recommendations for government, including the need to scale up green hydrogen with parallel rapid growth in renewable energy – especially offshore wind – as well as electrification, efficiency and the circular economy, and ensuring that the vision identifies where green hydrogen production and use is likely to add the most value, ensuring a cost-effective use of public funding.

On the decarbonisation of heat in buildings, the report called for the UK to focus on rapid gains on energy efficiency, heat pumps and renewable heat networks, noting there is a growing body of evidence that green hydrogen will only play a small role in industrial clusters where there is a surplus. It stressed that waiting for long-term progress on hydrogen must not act as a blocker to action that can be taken today.

It further called for governance mechanisms for risk-managing delivery and avoid a lock-in of fossil fuel derived energy sources; hydrogen pipelines that are built around secure hydrogen demand and supply, rather than how existing gas assets can be best kept functioning; a focus on jobs, skills and supply chains to ensure a just transition and support for the “levelling up” agenda; and that government promotes evidence-based and society-wide decision making.

Image: zephylwer0 from Pixabay.