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What Role will Hydrogen Play in the UK’s Energy Mix?





Almost a year on from the launch of the UK Hydrogen Strategy, a flurry of headlines has reignited debate about the potential of hydrogen, particularly in the context of the current energy crisis. Here, we briefly assess the potential for hydrogen in the UK, the progress made so far, and what more needs to be done.

The UK Hydrogen Strategy

Launched in August 2021, the UK Hydrogen Strategy was intended to flesh out the strategy to build a low carbon hydrogen sector in the UK, positioned as a key plank of the build back better strategy in the previous year’s ‘Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’ publication. The strategy laid out an ultimate aim of developing 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030. Hydrogen has the potential to play a key role in the UK’s decarbonisation efforts, acting as a direct replacement for natural gas in many applications that are otherwise impractical, or impossible, to electrify. This includes many industrial and manufacturing applications.

To be successful in meeting our Sixth Carbon Budget, the rest of the 2020s need to see a substantial shift amongst energy users towards using hydrogen as an alternate fuel. This is set to be supported by a £315 million Industrial Energy Transformation Fund, as well as a £20 million Industrial Fuel Switching Competition, geared around bolstering the evidence base for hydrogen use and storage.

Recent Developments

As well as a replacement for natural gas, hydrogen also offers an alternative technology when it comes to replacing internal combustion engines. While still in its infancy in the UK, hydrogen-powered lorries present one possibility that could solve the issues of range and charging time that electric vehicles currently still suffer from, particularly heavy goods vehicles. Plans for two of the world’s first hydrogen refuelling stations have been put forward for services stations in Cumbria and North Yorkshire, with operator Element 2 hoping to have them operational this year.

Last week, Johnson Matthey Chief Executive Jane Toogood was appointed as the UK’s hydrogen champion by BEIS. Her role will be to drive industry investment and deployment during the early stages of the UK hydrogen economy, as well as to identify existing barriers to adoption. Three days earlier, Johnson Matthey themselves were reported to be closing in on plans for an £80 million hydrogen factory in the UK, primarily to supply the automotive manufacturing sector.

Just this week, the Scottish Government announced a £10 million Hydrogen Innovation Scheme to provide capital support over the next four years for development of the hydrogen economy. Wales has its own hydrogen ambitions, with Bridgend Council signing a memorandum of understanding for Japanese green energy specialist Marubeni to develop £26 million of green hydrogen projects.

While electrification, including heating and transport, will play a key role in the UK’s net zero ambitions, there is a growing confidence that hydrogen will play a vital role in replacing fossil fuels in areas that are difficult to electrify. Producing no CO2 when burnt, with the only by-product being water, a thriving green hydrogen strategy offers a great deal of promise. However, it is still very much in its infancy, and the rate at which new projects and investments are announced will likely need to increase as the clock ticks down towards the target of 5GW of domestic production by 2030.

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