UK Hydrogen Economy

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:23 pm on 17th December 2020.

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Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Mental Health) 3:23 pm, 17th December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship today, Ms Rees.

I start by thanking Alexander Stafford for securing this debate on an issue that is extremely important to so many areas across the United Kingdom, including my own constituency. Drawing on his own expertise in the sector, he spoke in great detail and outlined many of the issues that will be of the utmost importance for the hydrogen strategy. I thank him for that and for his dedication in raising these issues in what is his second debate in the House of Commons.

To reach the Government’s goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and to honour the Scottish Government’s commitment to achieve the same goal by 2045, we will need to maximise the use of all potential options for decarbonisation. Until this point, hydrogen has been a massively underused option, but it is one that should be prioritised in Government planning and funding in the future. In particular, we need to be aware of the fact that, while electric cars, wind turbines and solar panels are widely accepted by the public—and their imaginations—right across the United Kingdom, the concept of hydrogen as a potential low-carbon secondary energy source is still alien to most of them. Therefore, I first urge the Minister to consider what steps the Government can take to maximise public understanding of hydrogen as a vital asset in combating climate change.

[Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

I welcome the Government’s White Paper, which outlined their aim to increase the UK’s low-carbon hydrogen production capacity to 5 GW by 2030 and committed them to publishing a more detailed report in 2021 focusing on the UK’s hydrogen strategy. I urge them to publish the report without delay. Hydrogen is one of the key concepts of the future that will take us towards our climate goals.

When the Government publish their strategy, the projects and partnerships already implemented across Scottish businesses and by the Scottish Government may be relevant. I am always a keen advocate of learning from and sharing best practice right across the United Kingdom, and I would highlight in particular the Green Hydrogen for Scotland partnership between ScottishPower, BOC and ITM Power, and the Aberdeen hydrogen bus network, which introduced the world’s first hydrogen-powered double-decker bus earlier this year.

I would also highlight the hydrogen heating pilot scheme to be introduced in 300 homes in Fife by the Scottish Government in 2022. That scheme and the idea of using hydrogen for heating homes have been well documented in the past. It is particularly attractive in constituencies such as my own. East Kilbride was a new town developed just after the second world war, and now contains a significant proportion of ageing and dense housing stock where heating pumps may not always be a viable option.

The Government’s White Paper mentions plans for neighbourhood hydrogen heating trials. I press the Government to consider the possibility of new boilers being fitted as hydrogen-ready. Given the industrial age of my constituency and the housing stock I have described, I ask that the Minister consider East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow as one of the pilot sites when the Government consider those options.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles must also be viewed as a crucial option in securing a transition towards green carbon-neutral transport. However, Government funding for hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and stations must be prioritised and detailed in the report on the hydrogen strategy that is due to be published.

In my constituency, a study undertaken by ScottishPower Energy Networks concluded that if all the fossil fuel-powered vehicles were changed to battery electric vehicles, a significant upgrade of the electricity grid would be required. It was estimated that that would take five years, cost £10 million and involve a new major substation and the laying of nearly 70 km of new cables. Hydrogen may well offer a cheaper alternative to electrifying every vehicle on our roads. It has the potential to be rolled out with significantly less disruption to transport networks in coming years and is ideally suited to many parts of the United Kingdom—particularly many of the rural areas of my constituency and across Scotland. Far more research is needed, and ring-fenced funding must also be allocated, if we are to see hydrogen playing a pivotal role in the transition to renewable and low-carbon energy.

Hydrogen also presents tangible opportunities for sustained future employment in my constituency and across Scotland. For example, TÜV SÜD National Engineering Laboratory, located in East Kilbride, is the UK’s designated institute for flow measurement and is part of the UK’s national measurement system, which is already funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The measurement traceability it provides underpins every fiscal and financial transaction that occurs in the UK for liquid or gaseous fuel, traded on readings from flow meters. I have been out to visit, and although I cannot assure the Minister that I understood absolutely all the scientific information that was imparted to me, I certainly tried my best.

The laboratory has been transitioning jobs from oil and gas to the hydrogen sector already and has been working to establish national facilities that will be world-beating. These will provide measurement traceability that allows hydrogen and carbon dioxide for carbon capture and storage to be traded accurately, which I understand is of the utmost importance. Would the Minister, or another Minister from BEIS, be willing to meet me and representatives from TÜV SÜD to discuss potential Government support for the proposed clean fuels metrology centre? That would provide the measurement capability for the UK that will be essential in the adoption of hydrogen as a fuel and the energy vector going forward.