UK Hydrogen Economy

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:00 pm on 17th December 2020.

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Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley 3:00 pm, 17th December 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the UK hydrogen economy.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Members will be aware that only three weeks ago, I sponsored the UK Parliament’s very first stand-alone debate on hydrogen, which was about hydrogen transport. I believe that it was a great success and I welcome the Minister’s proactive and helpful response. It is incredibly exciting that straight off the back of that debate, I have the opportunity to broaden the scope of the conversation today to encompass the UK’s hydrogen economy. It is right that I should touch on hydrogen transport, but I am keen to emphasise hydrogen’s important role in home heating, the gas network and industry, and its wider economic benefits for the UK.

I have been clear that we need a multifaceted approach to decarbonising our economy and meeting our net zero goal. One technology alone will simply not be enough. Instead, we must move to a model where we use the best renewable fuel or technology for the job at hand. By advocating for our hydrogen future, I am in no way detracting from electric vehicles, biofuels or carbon capture and storage, among other central aspects of the matter. I believe that those must be used in conjunction with hydrogen to ensure that we do not have any gaps or holes in our decarbonisation efforts. Hydrogen, however, presents a unique opportunity for us to corner the market and become a world leader in hydrogen use and production, in a way that we simply do not with electric vehicle batteries or in the wind farm supply chain.

The UK is the perfect place to be a hydrogen power, because of expertise, home-grown companies, North sea assets and our developed infrastructure. Our wind farms provide clean renewable energy to produce hydrogen, and underwater pipelines can in theory ferry that hydrogen to and from the continent. I have reiterated time and again that a strong UK hydrogen industry will create thousands of jobs across the country, cut our carbon emissions dramatically and boost our post-covid and post-Brexit economy.

In my speech on hydrogen transport a few weeks ago, I spoke at length about the flexibility and freedom offered by hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, which are practically free of CO2 emissions. Energy is stored as compressed hydrogen fuel in hydrogen vehicles, which means that they can drive up to 700 km without refuelling, and just like a conventional car they take only a few minutes to refuel. The deployment of hydrogen is likely in vehicles that travel long distances or that have high utilisation, such as buses and heavy goods vehicles: those are less suited to electrification, and the consumers demand rapid refuelling.

I am particularly impressed by Wrightbus, which is building 3,000 hydrogen buses in the UK for use across the country by 2024—the equivalent of taking 107,000 cars off the road. I have highlighted that if the 4,000 zero-emission buses announced in February had been hydrogen buses, the economies of scale would have revolutionised the transport sector, helping to achieve cost parity between hydrogen and diesel buses. We need that to happen as soon as possible.

A major step in achieving cost parity would be the reform of the renewable transport fuel obligation. I have written to the Government this week to stress the need to reform the RTFO so that electricity from any renewable resource can be considered eligible. I intend that that increased hydrogen production will encourage more councils to buy hydrogen buses and boost UK manufacturing, and that the resulting stable hydrogen supply will speed up the process of cutting carbon from heavy transport sectors.