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Hydrogen a credible option to help decarbonise UK energy, transport - report

Thu 22 November 2018 | Back to news list

A new report from the Committee on Climate Change says that hydrogen is a credible option to help decarbonise the UK energy system but its role depends on early Government commitment and improved support to develop the UK's industrial capability. The report finds hydrogen could replace natural gas in parts of the energy system, where electrification is not feasible or is prohibitively expensive.
In the context of transport, the report advocates the development of more pilot projects, particularly for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).
The CCC’s Hydrogen in a low-carbon economy report says that hydrogen can make an important contribution if it is combined with greater energy efficiency, cheap low-carbon power generation, electrified transport and new ‘hybrid’ heat pump systems, which have been successfully trialled in the UK.
However, there remain significant obstacles to the decarbonisation of industry, transport and heat even as the UK has focused on cleaning up electricity generation over the last decade. The CCC report says that a combination of energy efficiency and the electrification of the economy can continue to reduce UK emissions substantially. However, this is not enough to reach full decarbonisation in every sector.
The report says that hydrogen could replace natural gas in parts of the energy system, for example in providing heat on colder winter days, industrial heat processes and back-up power generation.
The report’s key recommendations are:
  • Government must commit to developing a low carbon heat strategy within the next three years. This would encourage commercial investment in producing hydrogen for one of its key uses: providing heating for buildings and industry.
  • Significant volumes of low-carbon hydrogen should be produced in a carbon capture and storage (CCS) ‘cluster’ by 2030 to help the industry grow. Hydrogen should be produced for applications that require no major infrastructure changes (e.g. power generation, injection in to the gas network and depot-based transport).
  • Government must support the early demonstration of the everyday uses of hydrogen in order to establish the practicality of switching from natural gas to hydrogen. This requires the development of pilot projects for transport, industry and buildings uses.
  • There is low awareness amongst the general public of reasons to move away from natural gas heating to low carbon alternatives. There needs to be public engagement on the future of the UK’s heating choices. However, the window to engage with people is closing.
  • A strategy should be developed for low carbon heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) which encourages a move away from fossil fuels and biofuels to zero-emission solutions by 2050. Decisions about how to achieve this are required in the second half of the 2020s. Therefore, demonstrations of hydrogen HGVs will need to be made soon.
However, the report says that hydrogen is not a ‘silver bullet’ solution and would need to be used selectively. It says that there are also some commonly-held misconceptions about hydrogen that need to be better understood.
The CCC says it will continue to monitor how technological developments could impact the future role of hydrogen in the UK’s transition to a low-carbon economy.
Lord Deben, Chairman of the CCC, said: “Hydrogen has the potential to contribute to near-zero carbon energy emissions if used strategically.
"The Government must now decide whether it wishes to develop a UK hydrogen option, taking decisions now that will see the first deployment in the 2020s.
"This must be in parallel with efforts to improve energy efficiency, build further low-cost renewables and get carbon capture and storage underway. The time for the Government to move from theory to practice has arrived."
The CCC’s report echoes some of the suggestions set out in the National Infrastructure Commission’s National Infrastructure Assessment which was published earlier in the year and which also highlighted the need for trials of hydrogen, alongside greater research into heat pumps.

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