Skip to main content

Is hydrogen a viable low-carbon energy source for the UK?

7 May 2020

As it continues its inquiry into Technological Innovation and Climate Change, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) launches a session exploring hydrogen production, distribution and potential application.

With the Government having invested £160 million into hydrogen projects, the EAC will be considering the opportunities to maximise continued development and effectiveness, and the challenges faced by industry in delivering greater capacity.
Existing resources in the UK puts it at an advantage for incorporating hydrogen in the energy mix at scale. For instance, the UK has the largest offshore wind capacity and an extensive gas network, making it able to distribute and handle gases, and to produce ‘green hydrogen' via electrolysis using electricity generated from offshore wind or possibly small modular reactors.
Hydrogen could therefore play a key role in meeting net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, whilst protecting and creating high value jobs in the energy sector. It has a number of potential applications including electricity generation, fuelling HGVs and ships among other transportation, and heating homes and businesses with hydrogen gas boilers. However, for low-carbon hydrogen to be produced to support these uses, it must be more affordable for consumers and there are challenges regarding the supply of renewable energy sources to support electrolysis. Significant breakthroughs are also needed in carbon capture and storage, if methods including steam methane reforming, are to be used to scale up low-carbon hydrogen production.

Chair's comments

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Philip Dunne MP, said: 

“As we near our commitment of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, we must consider all options to generate energy that does not harm the environment. Hydrogen could form part of the solution – but it must be produced, stored and used in ways that do not create harmful emissions and maintain the highest safety standards.
“In 2018, 95% of hydrogen was produced using fossil fuels, so it is clear there are significant hurdles that must be overcome for it to become a viable, clean energy source. During this inquiry, we will be hearing from experts in industry about whether environmentally friendly hydrogen can be produced at scale, or if it is merely a pipe dream.” 

Terms of reference

The Committee is inviting written submissions to inform its session on hydrogen. Submissions should be submitted through the Committee's web portal, and should focus on, but not be limited to:

  • How effective has the Government's investment in hydrogen projects such as the Low Carbon Hydrogen Supply competition, the UK Hydrogen Mobility Programme and Hy4Heat been in moving the sector towards becoming an integral part of a low-cost, low-carbon economy and boosting the productivity and competitiveness of the UK energy sector?
  • What level of output can the sector deliver in the UK, and what Government support would be needed to achieve this? How does the potential for hydrogen differ by end-use?
  • How realistic is industry's claim of widespread applicability of hydrogen technology in transport, heating and other sectors? Is hydrogen a cost-effective, feasible solution towards a low-carbon economy? 
  • What are the different implications of hydrogen produced from fossil fuels versus from renewables in terms of cost, scale, and emissions, and in terms of meeting the UK's net zero targets?
  • How feasibly can hydrogen technology be applied in various sectors, from transportation, to energy generation and industrial processes, whilst maintaining the highest safety standards? 
  • How might the UK take advantage of further advances in hydrogen technology, such as hydrogen boilers and innovative storage and distribution solutions? 
  • What support does the sector require to keep pace with the most cutting-edge innovations, such as in hydrogen fuel cells, using Small Modular Reactors for hydrogen production and in end use applications?
  • What is the UK industry doing to scale up green and blue hydrogen production by using its offshore wind capability and developing feasible, cost-effective Carbon Capture and Storage technologies? 
  • Given hydrogen's potential cross-sector application, how co-ordinated is the Government's approach to policy and regulatory development of hydrogen? 
  • How well has the Government raised awareness amongst industry, public officials and the general public of the potential for hydrogen to support a low-carbon economy? 
  • To what extent has the UK established, or can establish, any early adopter advantage in the use of hydrogen in research, applied science or industrial processes? Which countries are at a similar or more advanced stage than the UK in exploring applications for hydrogen in helping deliver net-zero targets? 
  • What can the UK hydrogen sector learn from other countries' hydrogen strategies?  

Details of the formal evidence session will be announced in due course.

Further information

Image: Albert Bridge/