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Giving the Green Light to Hydrogen

Britain’s future success in hydrogen is rightly hailed as a necessary step to achieving net-zero and UK green energy independence. However, it depends on one vital factor: urgent government support and leadership to ensure that strategic infrastructure is defined and built to encompass the whole hydrogen energy chain – production, storage, distribution, and use.

Given that all our futures depend on achieving net-zero by 2050, this should be set as a national priority.

Delivering investment for this infrastructure can provide the upsurge in national skills, resources, jobs, and growth necessary to carry us forward as an economy and as leaders in the hydrogen field.

European public-private partnerships show promising returns for the pioneering companies who have staked their claim in this growth industry.

The production of green hydrogen powered by offshore wind is already underway in the UK, but we are moving painfully slowly: less than one percent of the UK’s hydrogen is low carbon. By 2030, we will need to have this ramped up to 10GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity to meet the government’s revised targets.

We need to build domestic markets and distribution networks, we need customers abroad, and, perhaps most of all, we need material volumes of new hydrogen storage (3-10 times current levels) – for, without the balancing role of adequate storage, hydrogen production itself would have to increase by another 3-5 times to supply peak time demand.

Britain has the potential to become a leader in this field. But there are two major challenges: speed of project development, and integration across the hydrogen chain.

Stephen Sanderson
Stephen Sanderson is the CEO of UKEn.

These two challenges are currently best addressed at a regional level, where local skills, resources, and expertise can efficiently be coordinated in close alignment with community, and government goals, and investments. Existing connections and infrastructure can be readily and effectively exploited to take projects forward. It requires an understanding of how the pieces of several local puzzles fit together. These are hard, slow things to achieve at a national level, and time is pressing. However, the government must develop a national strategy as to how all these projects can join up into a network that benefits the entire country.

An easier problem to solve is that existing support for regional projects remains incomplete. The UK government’s list of only 5 hydrogen infrastructure projects includes several in the north-west and north-east of England but nothing for the south.

At [UKEn] we are building partnerships and proposals around the largest-yet hydrogen storage solution to be envisaged for the UK, at Portland Port, where we see the former naval site gaining new life through giant salt-cavern storage linking offshore wind energy with green hydrogen production and a pipeline to the new Solent Cluster which would transport it on to customers.

Such an emphasis on local integration of energy creation with hydrogen production, storage, and use was a key condition for the success of the hydrogen facility at Puertollano, Spain, where a 100MW solar farm feeds what is currently the largest green hydrogen facility in Europe.

We urge the government to learn from past mistakes in the energy sector. Britain missed the boat in the wind farm sector, something that now underlies the potential of green hydrogen networks, by not exploiting, coordinating, and scaling up the underlying technology development and expertise when the sector was emerging. Now Denmark leads the way in turbine manufacturing technology.

Letting the hydrogen opportunity slide would be even more damaging while Britain is attempting to stare down an energy crisis, deal with post-Brexit, changes of monarch and government, and negotiate a variety of new relationships with the international community.

British research and innovation are superb, and our knowledge of other low-carbon technologies can help cut costs, maximise efficiency and get the right skills in the right place at the right time. And yet, we’re treading water. In its Ten-Point Plan of 2020, the government designated a very modest £240 million for hydrogen production capacity and plans for funding a public-private business model. As time ticks on – the EU has designated €3 billion for a hydrogen bank, and the U.S. is heavily incentivising energy innovation with its Inflation Reduction Act.

We would ask the Sunak government to immediately implement incentives to attract private-sector investment to support the delivery of a properly defined hydrogen strategy and its long-term development timeframes. Such investment would, potentially, be even more attractive while the pound remains relatively weak.

Naturally, we would like to see Portland Port’s hydrogen production and storage project listed as a key element in the government’s hydrogen strategy going forward. As the largest proposed project of its kind, and one which could be well underway in 2025 with planning permission, Portland will advertise the UK’s commitment to innovative green technologies worth investing in.

Hydrogen urgently needs a green light from the government so the UK can move into a more comfortable and secure tomorrow by increasing domestic energy security and economic development. Let’s make that happen today.