Green hydrogen has the power to sustainably fuel communities in the future. However, in order to do this, the collective help of the government and the industry is needed to create a market for its utilisation, the infrastructure for it to be produced and stored, and supportive legislation and funding to power investment, says George Adams.
Hydrogen production used to rely on fossil fuels to operate, however, there are less expensive renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydro power. The UK Government’s Ten Point Plan highlights low-carbon production hydrogen as technology that can play a role in reducing carbon emissions alongside electrification. With a well-planned and properly funded methodology, hydrogen can help the UK achieve lower emissions across areas of the economy that are more difficult to decarbonise.
Picking off the high-hanging fruit
To achieve the ambitious carbon emissions reductions set out by the UK government, taking the easy option is not going to be enough. This is where green hydrogen can provide real value and it is incumbent on the industry to prove it.
In the area of heavy transport, projects such as the hydrogen bus in Aberdeen demonstrate how the technology might be used not just for public transport but also for road freight. Hydrogen also has the potential to massively affect the decarbonisation of heating in buildings. Hydrogen-ready boilers are available now, and if the UK government were to legislate for it, all new homes and those where boilers are being replaced could be made hydrogen-ready.
Hydrogen possesses the potential to decarbonise heavy industries. requiring green hydrogen production to reach an industrial scale. As an example, the European Commission identified that over 177 million tonnes of steel are produced in Europe annually and an analysis by McKinsey in their Decarbonisation challenge for steel report revealed that two million tonnes of hydrogen-based steel require 144,000 tonnes of green hydrogen. Producing this amount requires nine 100MW electrolysis plants such as the one planned in Hamburg, which is amongst the world’s largest, demonstrating the scale of the challenge.
Planning the integration of hydrogen
Increasing production of green hydrogen requires a mix of government support for hydrogen and renewable energy infrastructure, favourable terms for private investment into these areas, and further regulation of carbon-intensive energy sources.
The UK possesses robust financial markets, investment expertise, political will for change, a robust science and technology industry at the forefront of innovation, and the existing natural gas infrastructure that can be repurposed for hydrogen. All of these factors have to be accounted for when the government rolls out its hydrogen strategy and continues on the path to net zero emissions.
Educating workers on hydrogen technologies
For the implementation of green hydrogen technologies to be a success, the built environment needs to better understand how they can be implemented. Reskilling and upskilling parts of the existing workforce will be essential to successfully decarbonise our buildings and infrastructure, and the government should ensure its hydrogen strategy aligns with its broader jobs strategy to provide the sector with the skilled workers it needs.
The regulation of hydrogen will be critical. On the one hand, robust safety standards that keep pace with the speed of innovation in the hydrogen sector are needed so that people have confidence in the technology they are investing in. On the other hand, more stringent carbon pricing for goods and materials produced using fossil fuel methods, which will be required anyway, coupled with the continued fall in renewable electricity prices, would help tilt the economic argument in green hydrogen’s favour.
Change is definitely taking place in the energy market and the hydrogen sector, but the significant changes required needs to happen at a rapid pace. The development of a hydrogen market is key, and producers should take this opportunity to continue investing in production amenities and reducing the cost of hydrogen applications.
To hit the UK’s ambitious 2035 carbon emissions targets and its 2050 net-zero targets, the development of hydrogen in the UK deserves greater industry engagement. Measurable targets should be put in place by the government, the built environment, the energy industry and financial markets. The UK’s Ten Point Plan was the first step towards integrating hydrogen technologies into other industries, it needs to be followed by tangible actions to make it a reality.
George Adams is director of energy and engineering at SPIE UK