Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell says there’s no green future without hydrogen, so why isn’t everyone talking about it?
Forgetting about hydrogen in the push for a greener economy would be a huge mistake, but delivering it is only possible through international cooperation.
As the discussion around cutting emissions and transforming infrastructure heats up, hydrogen remains under-discussed and undervalued – even though, according to a recent study by Terra Praxis, “hydrogen will be needed to decarbonise the global energy system.” This lack of interest is made even more concerning, and surprising, by the fact that the switch to hydrogen offers significant returns for investors. However, those profits will only be realised, and the environmental gains will only be felt, if the international community commits itself to creating the right environment for it to happen.
The hydrogen market is simply the latest illustration of the old truth that it is good policy that creates a sustainable market, not the law of the jungle.
While the pressing nature of the climate crisis is well-known, there is no clear strategy (either in the UK or in the rest of the world) to build a sustainable global economy (ie an economy that does not destroy its own natural environment) – nor even a strategy to reach the widely publicised commitment to net zero by 2050. This lack of preparedness and vision was underscored in the most recently published Climate Change Committee (CCC) report, which found that only four of 61 areas of infrastructure set to be impacted by climate change are being ‘managed sufficiently’ with regards to their adaptation plans. While it is acknowledged that plans do not have to be fully crystalised, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported in 2020 that new technologies will have to be responsible for over one third of emission reductions if the UK is to reach its net zero goals. That won’t happen if we don’t start now to plan for the innovation on which success will depend.
So, to repeat the question, why aren’t we talking more about hydrogen?
The IEA report argues that success depends on four factors: electrification, hydrogen and biofuels, along with carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS). In this quadruplet there can be little doubt that hydrogen is lagging behind.
Hydrogen is a fuel not a source of energy. Like electricity, it has to be manufactured.
Most manufacturing techniques currently rely on fossil fuels – and therefore make little or no contribution to decarbonisation. The potential for hydrogen lies in the development of manufacturing techniques which, like electricity, rely on renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, or biomass like electricity – but which, unlike electricity, provide a source of energy which is rapid-burning and efficient, non-toxic and ozone-friendly.
Hydrogen-enabled fuels create an alternative route to decarbonisation of sectors such as shipping, aviation and road freight. It offers a scalable clean fuel that can be implemented in varying quantities to lower the risk of failure in decarbonisation efforts. Moreover, further innovation in hydrogen-enabled synthetic fuels will make the use of hydrogen progressively more attractive and more reasonably priced…
In 2019, for the first time ever, renewable energies provided a greater share (38.9 per cent) of the UK’s total usage than any other source, and by 2030 the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) believes that at least half of Britain’s energy will have to come from renewable sources. Hydrogen can contribute to this process, but it will only do so if it shifts to more environmentally friendly production methods.
Terra Praxis shows us the way. Demand for green hydrogen fuel (meaning hydrogen derived from
renewable resources), could transform nations such as Namibia, Morocco, and Chile into booming export economies, while simultaneously creating the conditions for an entirely new sector of shipping and industrial research and development. Technology offers the prospect of a new Gold
(Hydrogen) Rush in these countries, with attendant benefits to the whole international community, if the right policy framework is created.
The main obstacle to the development of this market – with its attendant environment and financial benefits – is the fact that hydrogen will not work for one country alone. The massive shift, not just in primary energy source but also in international trading patterns that will be required, creates issues of cost and scale which no nation can undertake singlehandedly.
The science of hydrogen fuel production offers substantial gains; they will only be realised if sovereign nations rediscover the basic truth that they can all achieve more for their citizens by collaboration than they can by small minded insularity.
Beggar my neighbour means beggar thyself.