Future of Energy

Once life returns to some normality, we imagine that plotting a route to Net Zero will again become be a key government priority.

And when this happens, many believe making ‘green’ hydrogen more readily available will be essential to meeting this goal.

Currently, most hydrogen production is a very energy-intensive process using natural gas or coal, so has a far larger than desirable carbon footprint.

But new technologies that seek to generate hydrogen from water electrolysis – which only requires water and electricity – are emerging.

Developing low-carbon production

In February, the government announced it was investing £70m in two low-carbon hydrogen plants near Liverpool and Aberdeen, plus a third near Grimsby that will use power from nearby offshore wind farms.

The aim is to develop new hydrogen technologies that can replace fossil fuels in energy-intensive industrial processes such as glass and cement production.

Industry currently contributes around 20% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, so finding ways to reduce this is key to reaching the UK’s Net Zero target.

Options for heat and transport

Hydrogen could also provide a low-carbon fuel for domestic energy and transport.

Trials are already underway to inject 20% of hydrogen into existing gas networks for home heating.

And hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered cars are already on the market to provide an alternative to electric vehicles (although the commercial availability of fuel is still a problem – but see below for more on this).

More investment in carbon capture

Commercialising Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is seen as another way to making mass hydrogen production more viable.

In the Budget back in March, the government announced a CCS Infrastructure Fund to establish CCS in at least two UK sites, one by the mid-2020s, and a second by 2030.

Cranfield University has also received £7.5m of government funding to set up a £1.5MW pilot plant that captures emissions during the hydrogen production process.

Calling for a joined-up approach

While it’s encouraging to see so many projects underway, the danger is without a co-ordinated approach, any commercial benefits may be harder to implement.

That’s why developing a joined-up Hydrogen Strategy across government (and presumably, industry) is one of the key aims of a new industry group.

Representatives from key energy and engineering firms came together to launch a Hydrogen Taskforce in Parliament in March. Members, which include Shell, BP and BOC, are also calling on the government to commit to:

  • £1bn of funding over the next Spending Review period for hydrogen production, storage and distribution projects.

  • Support to develop hydrogen production for blending into the gas grid, industrial use, power generation and transport.

  • Public trials to test 100% hydrogen heating and mandating hydrogen-ready boilers by 2025.

  • Collaboration to establish 100 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2025 to support the roll-out of hydrogen transport.

Energy efficiency also key

As well as developing low-carbon fuel sources, energy efficiency must also be a national priority, according to the Committee on Climate Change.

It says the government’s call for a 20% improvement in industrial and business energy efficiency is crucial to meeting Net Zero goals.

This is perhaps even more pressing now, with so many businesses having to save money in every area to aid financial recovery once the Covid-19 crisis is over.

If you’d like to understand more about using hydrogen, increasing energy efficiency and other cost and carbon-saving strategies, talk to our experts at Energy HQ (via nBS@npower.com). Or contact your Client Lead (for existing nBS customers).

You’ll also find a range of resources in our ever-expanding Energy Management Toolkit online here.

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