Hydrogen will never be more than ‘niche’, MPs say

Mace Dragado’s JV is trialling an AFC Energy H-Power Tower at its Euston station in London

Hydrogen is likely to have a “specific but limited” role in decarbonising sectors, for example where electrification is not possible, and as a means of storing energy, according to MPs.

A report of the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee, title Hydrogen’s role in achieving net zeroconcludes that hydrogen is unlikely to be practical and economically viable for mass use in the short to medium term for heating homes or fueling vehicles due to the cost, technological and infrastructure challenges involved – as well as the “unassailable” market leadership held of alternatives such as electric cars.

The Commons Science & Technology Committee disagrees with the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation that the government should mandate that new household boilers must be hydrogen-ready from 2025.

Currently, hydrogen is overwhelmingly produced from fossil fuel-intensive processes, MPs note. Efficient production of low-carbon “green” hydrogen depends on an abundance of cheap renewable electricity, and so-called “blue” hydrogen requires carbon capture and storage, which is not used on the large scale required to make a significant contribution to emissions reductions. Given this, the committee says it is “unwise” to assume that hydrogen can make a major contribution to reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions in the short to medium term.

The committee is “not convinced” that hydrogen will be able to play a widespread role in heating homes by 2026, when the government has said it may start requiring hydrogen-ready boilers in homes, although some blending may be possible hydrogen with natural gas. It also argues that residential hydrogen metering policy has been “overlooked” and energy regulator Ofgem cannot say whether today’s smart meters will be suitable for hydrogen or the cost implications for the consumer if they are not.

The committee outlines the areas where the use of hydrogen has potential, including in the decarbonisation of UK industrial clusters, where hydrogen is already produced; in parts of transport such as areas of the railway network that are difficult to electrify, bus networks that have a local operating pattern that is amenable to refueling at depots, and certain parts of shipping and aviation.

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The committee says that over the next two months the government should outline a series of decision points between now and 2050 that will determine the role of hydrogen in the UK’s future energy system. This should include specifying what scientific and technological advances must be made at each stage, such as requirements for the use of carbon capture and storage to make blue hydrogen economical and the level of renewable production that will lead to surplus power that can be used to produce green hydrogen .

Greg Clark MP, chair of the committee, said: “Hydrogen can play an important role in decarbonising the UK economy, but it is not a panacea.

– There are significant infrastructure challenges associated with converting our energy grids to the use of hydrogen and uncertainty about when low-carbon hydrogen can be produced on a large scale at an economic cost.

“But there are important uses for hydrogen in particular industries, so it could be, in the words of one witness to our inquiry, ‘a big niche’.

– We welcome the government’s overall strategy and support for hydrogen trials, but future decisions about hydrogen’s role must increasingly be practical and take into account what is technically and economically achievable. We ask the government to determine a number of decision points that will give the industry the clarity it needs.”

The full report can be found at publications.parliament.uk

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