Why the Conservatives should get behind hydrogen
Hydrogen can drive growth and help the UK become a net energy exporter by 2040.
With the cost-of-living crisis at the forefront of everyone’s mind, the Government has rightly acted to support customers with the Energy Price Guarantee this winter.
However, the underlying issues causing the price hikes are unlikely to abate anytime soon, outlining the urgency in which we need to act to protect consumers and deliver a secure supply of energy.
When it comes to climate change, the Conservatives can look back on a record of delivery dating back to Margaret Thatcher being one of the first world leaders to put climate change at the top of the agenda. It was also a Conservative government that led the world in being the first major economy to enshrine its net zero emissions target into law in 2019.
While some may think now is the time to re-think our net zero commitments, we need to be doubling down on them. Net zero and energy security go hand in hand with one another and green technologies can play a leading role in reducing our dependence on global energy markets to bring down bills.
One such technology is hydrogen.
In its greenest form, hydrogen could deliver affordable and reliable energy to millions of households across the UK. Domestically produced renewable energy could power the creation of green hydrogen. It could also be readily available very soon. If we take Scotland for example, thanks to an abundance of rich renewable resources, the promise of hydrogen could soon be turned into reality. With all of this renewable potential in Scotland, there is a fantastic opportunity to utilise our resources to generate green hydrogen, which can be used to decarbonise a number of sectors. The Government has an opportunity to capitalise on this by using the ongoing Review of Electricity Market Arrangements to break the link between gas and electricity prices. This is a chance to drive down the long-term electricity price, ensure the cost reductions are passed onto customers and help to provide a pathway to the UK being a net exporter of clean energy.
As well as supporting our energy supply, hydrogen can help decarbonise some of the UK’s highest emitting sectors.
One of these sectors, home heating, is the arguably the biggest challenge we face in achieving net zero. It’s the second biggest emitting sector with around 30 per cent of our national emissions coming from buildings, which includes around 25 million homes connected to gas networks across the UK. Millions of people will be heavily impacted by needing to change how they heat their homes. For many customers a potential solution could be a repurposed gas network that supplies hydrogen to heat their homes and plans are now gathering pace to make this a reality.
Inside the home, hydrogen will require no major home modifications with customers upgrading to a hydrogen ready boiler when their boiler reaches the end of its natural life. Installation could neatly dovetail into the yearly replacement of 1.6 million gas boilers that takes place in the UK.
Hydrogen ready boilers are already being developed by British manufacturers, with early estimates suggesting they will be £50 more expensive that gas boilers. The Government can stimulate demand for the market by bringing out the hydrogen-ready boiler consultation and mandating manufacturers to develop hydrogen ready boilers only by 2025, paving the way for full conversion away from gas.
Outside of the home, Britain’s gas networks are already two thirds of the way through a programme to replace old metal pipes with hydrogen-ready plastic piping. By 2032, the gas network will be fully hydrogen ready. Networks and appliance manufacturers have also been undertaking a series of projects to test how hydrogen behaves in a variety of different settings and environments.
But what do customers want? Those that we have spoken to tell us they are worried about being left behind when it comes to adopting new technologies, and many are also worried about being the first mover. They see a world of uncertainty and risk and for many, a do-nothing approach represents the least risk option. Customers expect the government and business to take the lead by providing clarity in what these choices are and a roadmap of how they can be made a reality. If we are to make progress on the decarbonisation of our homes in the 2020s, it will be done by backing all technologies, and hydrogen should have a role to play in this space.
The crisis in our energy market is unlikely to abate anytime soon, which means we need to take action now to protect customers this winter and beyond. But as we look to the Government’s long-term ambitions of delivering sustained growth and energy export opportunities, both can be achieved by focusing on the delivery of clean technologies such as hydrogen. With the potential to create 75,000 new jobs across the UK by 2035 and an abundance of renewable resource in places such as Scotland, hydrogen can drive growth, energy security and progress on decarbonisation.
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