There was a similar level of anticipation amongst industry for the UK Government’s report into hydrogen, which was finally published in August. Many were asking how ambitious it would be and whether hydrogen could be the solution to our climate woes.
Governments are under increasing pressure to set out affordable, achievable strategies in response to the clear and present threat posed by the climate emergency. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced it is ‘code red for humanity’. In the report Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the UN said, “the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions are choking our planet and placing billions of people in danger”.
The UK Government’s Hydrogen Strategy is an important first step towards addressing some of the toughest decarbonisation challenges that will be crucial if we are to tackle the fossil fuel emissions choking our planet and causing millions of premature deaths every year from air pollution.
The strategy’s production target was warmly welcomed. The ambition for 5GW of hydrogen production by 2030 matches the targets of other major European nations, including Germany (5GW), Spain (4GW) and France (6.5GW). However, it is clear we need to go further. The International Energy Agency has said that a 90-fold increase in production is required by 2030 if hydrogen’s potential contribution to a more sustainable and secure future is to be realised.
Infrastructure will be key to ramping up production and the Hydrogen Strategy acknowledged this challenge. At the end of 2019 there were 470 hydrogen refuelling stations in operation worldwide, albeit a fourfold increase since 2015, and only 14 of these were in the UK. At Powerhouse Energy, where I am Chair of the ESG Committee, we hope to kickstart this infrastructure. Our partner, Peel NRE, part of Peel L&P, has recently announced plans to develop a hydrogen refuelling station at Protos, where our technology will be first used commercially, turning plastic into clean energy. There are also ambitions for a refuelling station at a planned plastic to hydrogen facility in North Clyde, near Glasgow.
Powerhouse technology transforms plastic and waste into clean energy. As a low carbon technology, the process saves up to 125% CO2 when compared to carbon emissions from diesel. It also produces nearly three-quarters less CO2 than waste incineration.
Here at Powerhouse Energy, we welcomed the government’s focus on both ‘green’ and ‘blue hydrogen’. Time is not on our side. It’s essential that hydrogen production is ramped up now, including low carbon and blue hydrogen, so the global hydrogen economy starts to grow immediately.
Adopting this strategy here in the UK with British technologies at the heart, pioneering the hydrogen economy and ramping up production, will accelerate fuel switching and make an immediate difference to our CO2 emissions – importantly our air quality. The strategy brings an opportunity for strong partnerships to be built by British technology companies with local leaders and authorities with a shared vision to help improve our environment now, and for future generations.
The key question at COP26 is whether countries who have battled painful economic downturns over the past year unreservedly support aggressive climate change policies? Some are giving mixed messages in terms of their commitment to phasing out fossil fuels. But by 2050 the hydrogen economy is estimated to be worth $2.5 trillion, supporting 30 million jobs. Embracing hydrogen as a transport fuel, and also for heating, can help boost the UK economy whilst championing homegrown hydrogen technologies and exporting these worldwide.
The UK hydrogen strategy is a great example of the old adage: act local, think global. By investing locally to demonstrate the transformative potential of this technology, the UK is opening up global export opportunities. At Powerhouse our technology is already primed to help accelerate the clean energy transitions of Poland, Hungary and Greece. We expect to see more global leadership on hydrogen from the UK, both through its presidency of the G7, and co-presidency of COP26, arguably one of the most pivotal climate meetings in a generation. The world is watching.
About the author
Kirsty Gogan is Chair of Powerhouse Energy’s Environment Social and Governance Committee.