A significant statement as the UK stakes its hydrogen claim

A significant statement as the UK stakes its hydrogen claim

The unveiling of the UK’s 10-point plan for a green economy is a significant statement of intent and action from the Government.

Finally, as a whirlwind year for hydrogen begins its concluding weeks, the UK has followed the suit of so many other forward-thinking countries in throwing its support behind clean energies, and hydrogen in particular.

We’ve heard good soundbites emerging throughout the year.

Yet while various taskforces, campaigns and prominent stakeholders in the UK hydrogen scene have fought its cause during 2020, and earlier, they have previously been met only with hints and gestures of support – publicly at least – from Government.

The Hydrogen Taskforce issued a report in March 2020, which made several policy recommendations, including calling upon the Government to support, as a priority, live community trials for hydrogen heating to begin immediately. And following the publishing of its economic impact assessment in August 2020, the Taskforce has been providing evidence to Government on hydrogen policy.

It has to be said that the rhetoric from Government has ramped up in recent weeks and months, but still only alluded to a sense of intent.

Now, however, we have clear plan of action; we have the deliverables to underscore that good intent.

Today, we’re reflecting on the announcement that the Govt. is committed to developing 5 GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, and £240m to support new hydrogen production facilities, as part of its plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. Indeed this label for that plan is noteworthy in itself, something I’ll come back to later on…

It’s a solid pipeline of deliverables, a 10-point plan that almost resembles the UK’s 10 commandments in sustainability. Hydrogen is very much at the forefront of those ambitions, with a stated desire to lead the way in achieving net zero and ‘unleashing hydrogen’s potential’.

Perhaps it was the Taskforce’s economic forecast that hydrogen could be worth up to £18bn to the UK and create 75,000 jobs across the UK economy by 2035 that helped to swing the pendulum from ambition to action.

There is an argument to say, why lead the way on clean energies like hydrogen when fellow European countries like Germany and France, not to mention Australia, are already paving the way and much of the perceived risk in terms of technology and capital costs? Why not wait and piggyback on the movement later once technologies are proven, scale is achieved, and costs are significantly reduced?

As I understand it from well-placed sources, this was likely the feeling of the Treasury; striving to keep a tight hold of those purse strings, amidst an undercurrent of support for hydrogen across the cabinet and indeed, the country as a whole. When there is a such a compelling long-term economic forecast on the table though, it is difficult to resist. Indeed, in unveiling his £12bn 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, Prime Minister Boris Johnson cited the potential to create and support up to 250,000 new jobs.

Next Industrial Revolution

There’s that term again, ‘green industrial revolution’. As well as the economic case, it’s hard to overlook the argument to take a lead as a nation, rather than sit back and wait to follow in the footsteps of others (an ill-advised strategy anyway, against the backdrop of a ticking clock of climate change and our collective climate objectives).

This is, after all, a nation that was of course at the forefront of the great Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th century, no less. The UK and Europe as a whole was at the heart of this ‘first industrial revolution’ as the transformation to new (steam) power sources, newly mechanised manufacturing processes and whole new ways of life and industry emerged. It dramatically changed the way we live and work, the legacy of which we still see today.

The fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) is fundamentally shifting the way we live, work and relate to one another today, all built on the premise of digitisation, but I have heard the viewpoint many times this year that the latest Industrial Revolution will in fact be the clean energies transition – the green revolution. Sustainability, clean fuels and circular economies will represent the biggest change in our societies and economies of the future.

Wouldn’t there would be a great sense of coming full circle if the UK could lead the charge in a green, fourth industrial revolution that essentially closed the door on many aspects of the first?

Whatever the motive, this is a significant statement of intent and step forward for the UK’s hydrogen economy. It sees the UK commit £500m to trial the use of hydrogen for heating and cooking, starting with a Hydrogen Neighbourhood in 2023, moving to a Hydrogen Village by 2025. The aim exists for a Hydrogen Town before the end of the 2020s. It will see a minimum of 5 GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030. The question is, as always, whether that’s enough. Is it bold enough, how does it compare to the ambitions of other regions?

What is crucial now is that we not only deliver against those objectives, but go further in expanding that vision for green hydrogen at the core and, now emboldened, lead the charge in overhauling all aspects of our fossil fuel-based economies – and quickly. Bring on the revolution!

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