The UK must embrace hydrogen if we are to reach a net-zero future
Member of the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee and Chair of the Hydrogen APPG, Alexander Stafford MP, explains why we must press ahead with building out the UK’s hydrogen economy.
Four and a half years ago, Britain made history by becoming the first country in the world to legislate for net-zero. Not only was this a bold statement to the world that the UK was taking its climate obligations seriously – subsequently backed up by our presidency of COP and the binding targets agreed to there – but also a mission statement for the future of the UK’s economy: that the green revolution will provide jobs, opportunities, and growth across the country as well as help to avoid climate disaster.
The intervening years have made it clearer than ever – to me and to this government – that we cannot reach net-zero without hydrogen, but we will not have enough hydrogen without acting now.
I have previously characterised hydrogen as the “Polyfilla energy”, but perhaps this does a disservice to its role in net-zero as, come 2050, hydrogen will make up 25% of our energy and span every sector: from heating to transport, industry to storage. The government’s push for more and more hydrogen production has been instrumental in its remarkably quick uptake; for example, through the Net Zero Hydrogen Fund or by the doubling of our production ambition. However, alongside encouraging production we must build out the whole hydrogen economy and, unfortunately, here we are falling behind.
The US’s overtly pro-hydrogen Inflation Reduction Act, combined with hesitation to approve hydrogen blending, means the wider UK hydrogen market has been slower to build momentum than our international partners, and we risk losing investment to them. We must act now to ensure capacity in all areas of our hydrogen economy, from production through storage and transportation to end use, as well as take advantage of the opportunities that hydrogen present.
We cannot reach netzero without hydrogen, but we will not have enough hydrogen without acting now
The Energy Bill, passing through the House at time of writing, is a good start. For example, its support for midstream projects through business models, funding, and licensing; but we must make it easier for end users to transition. As I have mentioned every aspect of our energy system can be transformed, from hydrogen-ready boilers in homes, green steel furnaces powered by hydrogen, or buses and aeroplanes running on hydrogen.
These developments will also deliver the boons that hydrogen promises. We know that the 2030 10GW production ambition will provide the power equivalent to that used by the whole of London, but it will also create upwards of ten thousand jobs and encourage £9bn in private investment if we act in time. Moreover, and especially for places like my constituency of Rother Valley, these jobs and the investment will help it to be a just transition: creating opportunities, jobs, and wealth in places which might otherwise struggle in the climb to net-zero.
There is no direct replacement for carbon-based energy and now, nearly 15% into our net-zero timeline, and having dealt with a global pandemic and the impact of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, we must embrace our hydrogen future, and the jobs and opportunities it will bring, if we are to achieve net-zero.
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