Is hydrogen capable of enhancing UK’s energy security plan?

Climate Risk Recruitment

Is hydrogen capable of enhancing UK’s energy security plan?

The UK Government’s energy security strategy announced after Russia invaded Ukraine, combined with the urgency to reduce the dependence on overseas fossil fuels, consisted of multiple targets. This included increasing offshore wind to 50GW by 2030 and an ambitious plan to deliver eight nuclear facilities within the decade.

The energy security strategy has become increasingly critical following the rising conflict in Europe, influencing the urgency to improve domestic energy supplies while working toward reaching net zero by 2050. Other targets included enhancing the capacity of green hydrogen to 10GW by 2030. The UK government aims to operate yearly allocation rounds for electrolytic hydrogen, working toward price competitive allocation as soon as the market allows. John Mullen, the UK Energy Market Director at Ramboll, is unsure whether targets are achievable without a clear investment strategy pushed by the Government. Mullen states that 10GW is realistic but will be a challenge and requires further support from the Government on where the investment and development are needed to reach this target, as well as security on the cost of hydrogen.

One of the largest businesses in the hydrogen industry is energy giant Shell, which currently owns and operates around 10% of the total electrolyser capacity worldwide. Luci Austin, the UK Country Lead for Hydrogen at Shell, believes green hydrogen can play an important role in decarbonising difficult industries such as heavy transport, shipping and aviation. Austin explains how it can also work as seasonal storage for other energy resources such as offshore wind, enhancing energy security for the country. Austin believes that all forms of decarbonised hydrogen are required and highlights that large-scale hydrogen created from renewable energy is their focus. This approach is also shared by leading hydrogen business Octopus Hydrogen, which believes hydrogen to be an intermittent energy source to support renewable energy generation and electrification in other challenging industries. Will Rowe, the founder and CEO of Octopus Hydrogen, believes there is a strong case for hydrogen in powering short-haul flights in the next decade or so.

The role of Blue Hydrogen

Shell will invest more than £25 billion in UK energy infrastructure while declaring significant earnings as a consequence of rising oil and gas prices. Within this investment is an agreement to generate blue hydrogen at a German power facility. Blue hydrogen remains a debatable area as it derives from natural gas. Nevertheless, many businesses prefer this as an alternative energy source due to lower production costs and the ability to re-use fossil fuel supplies. Other industry analysts believe it could enable hydrogen production levels to increase to allow hydrogen to contend in the mainstream energy market.

Austin believes hydrogen should be combined with carbon capture and storage to achieve the scale required in the coming years. In regards to blue hydrogen, Mullen explains that the cost of blue hydrogen is lower than green, but it comes with the associated locational constraints of carbon capture, usage and storage which is chemically intensive. 

Hydrogen will play an important part in our future energy mix, but several challenges need tackling to increase the scale of development and improve energy security for the UK.

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