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Technological Innovations and Climate Change: Hydrogen

Inquiry

The Environmental Audit Committee is conducting an overarching inquiry looking at technological innovations which could contribute to tackling climate change. Each part of the inquiry will look at a specific technology currently in use or in development and consider its potential and how Government policy can facilitate the UK making the best and most cost-effective use of that technology.

This inquiry will be an opportunity to highlight UK-based examples of innovation and excellence, and the Committee is particularly keen to hear from those at the cutting edge of each sector.

Article 10 of the Paris Agreement recognises the central role of innovation in achieving mitigation and adaptation goals. The UK has taken a lead role in the development and deployment of some low-carbon technologies, and has supported international collaboration on a number of others. However technological progress is far from certain – in its 2019 report on Net Zero the Committee on Climate Change identified several technologies which had either not performed as well as had been envisaged or had not reduced in cost as expected when it conducted its initial modelling in 2008.

Looking to the future, it is difficult to predict how individual technologies will reduce in cost or improve in efficacy, but alongside other changes, technological innovation will be crucial to the UK achieving its emissions reduction goals.

Hydrogen 

The second session of this inquiry looks at hydrogen production and distribution. As the country with the largest offshore wind capacity and an extensive gas network, the UK has a comparative advantage in distributing and handling gases and producing ‘green hydrogen’ via electrolysis using electricity generated from offshore wind. By February 2020, the Government had invested over £90 million in hydrogen projects to enable industries to develop and deploy hydrogen technologies. These projects include the £33 million Low Carbon Hydrogen Supply competition and the UK Hydrogen Mobility Programme. In addition, the Government has announced £70 million of investment in new hydrogen supply and industrial fuel switching projects. This session will consider the opportunities to maximise continued development and effectiveness of this technology, and the challenges faced by the industry in delivering greater capacity.

Hydrogen has the potential to service demands for some industrial processes, to deliver energy-dense applications in HGVs and ships, and to produce electricity and heating in peak periods. Significant development in Carbon Capture and Storage technology and supporting infrastructure will be necessary, if methods such as steam methane reforming, are to be used to scale up low-carbon hydrogen production. Small Modular Reactors are being investigated as another possible way to produce low-carbon hydrogen. The potential for widespread installation of hydrogen boilers and gas distribution networks to be repurposed to hydrogen offer possible ways to contribute to net zero emissions. Related decisions over the balance between electrification and hydrogen in decarbonising heat require exploration now for the UK to find the most cost-effective transition to a low-carbon economy.

As hydrogen has a potential role in electricity generation, transportation, industry and heating fully integrated policy, regulatory design and implementation is crucial.

The development and deployment of hydrogen solutions could protect and create high value jobs in the energy sector. However, depending on how hydrogen is produced, for example, through steam methane reforming or electrolysis of water powered by renewable resources, it too can have negative environmental impacts. In 2018 around 95% of the global production of hydrogen was generated from fossil fuels. There remain significant hurdles to commercialising clean and sustainable means of producing, storing and using hydrogen and so a realistic assessment of the hydrogen option is necessary.