For too long, the West has relied on the world’s traditional energy superpowers – Russia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE – for its supplies, but that must end.
This is obviously easier said than done but Germany’s decision to press pause on the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline, is a significant step and will impact their ability to keep an additional 26 million German homes warm at an affordable price. The Gazprom-owned Swiss-based company building the pipeline has denied it has filed for bankruptcy but is said to have fired all its staff. It’s a blow to those individuals, obviously, but a necessary evil in the fight against Putin.
Imposing sanctions on Russia is one obvious way to hit Putin’s regime where it hurts but we must move more quickly towards energy independence here in the UK. We unquestionably have the resources to end our reliance on fossil fuels and unpleasant regimes, but a lack of joined up thinking around our energy subsidies and taxes and an absence of solid and bold policy is holing us back.
During Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons last Wednesday, Mr Johnson was asked by an opposition MP if he would commit to a “real hydrogen strategy” and the doubling of the hydrogen production targets for 2030 to help end Britain’s reliance on imported energy. As politicians do, he talked around her question but finished by saying she was “absolutely right”.
Further support for the argument to speed up the move towards greener energy came in the previous week when the UK’s Climate Change Committee advised that the best way to ease consumers’ pain from high energy prices is to stop using fossil fuels rather than drill for more of them.
The committee warned that new fossil fuel projects in the North Sea would, in some cases, not deliver gas until 2050, the date when climate laws stipulate that the UK must be almost completely weaned off gas.
That report came a day after a think tank, the Green Alliance, accused the government of wasting millions of pounds on propping up North Sea oil and gas.
Instead, a policy which said that by the end of next year, 5% of every fleet belonging to private or public organisations, leased, or purchased, must be zero emission, then 6% the following year, 7% in 2025 and gradually accelerating, is exactly the kind of legislation we need. Lock-in the policy and private finance will follow. There is a massive appetite in the financial sector to invest in new energy and specifically, hydrogen, investors just need a solid business case.
We are writing off hundreds of billions of pounds in energy abroad with BP and Shell pulling out of Russian investments. My mind boggles at what we could have done with that investment in the hydrogen energy sector and where we would be today if we had done this when I was presenting on energy security in the 90’s with the history of Georgian pipeline attacks, and the Gulf and then Iraq wars.
Boris Johnson has vowed that all UK homes will be powered by offshore wind energy by 2030 and the nation will be net zero by 2050. That’s a welcome commitment and should help to drive the production of green hydrogen forward but we still need to do more.
It has been reported that the National Grid has set an ambitious target of using hydrogen to partly power homes in the UK within the next three years with a pilot project, called H100, starting next year in the North of Scotland. Customers in around 300 homes will be offered free hydrogen-ready boilers and cookers in the scheme, which will initially last five and a half years. I applaud this development. News that Scotrail is to order a fleet of hydrogen powered trains is also most welcome.
Of course, the transition to greener energy must be fair. We can’t be guilty of energy colonialism and allow our businesses to buy up large swathes of land in the Sahara to be blanketed with solar panels when it’s not in the interests of local populations. The repercussions for the islanders of Bougainville in the South Pacific, for example, where the release of what would come to more than a billion metric tons of mining waste continues to affect the land, its wildlife and the people who live there, should stand as a lesson for us all. We must not try and pull the wool over people’s eyes.
However, the potential for green hydrogen production in the UK is enormous and this is where the UK can and should become a world leader.
The recent sale of multiple offshore licenses for wind farms will substantially increase our generating capacity but a deal last year between manufacturing equipment producer JCB and Fortescue Future Industries which will see JCB importing Australian hydrogen is an example of a British company looking abroad for its supplies. It’s frustrating to see this and I believe the UK could, with a prevailing wind, become an exporter of green hydrogen before too long.
We can’t flick a switch and change our energy supplies, but we can’t afford to dither and delay any longer. In fact, we won’t be able to afford our energy if we do.