UK Hydrogen Economy

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:29 pm on 17th December 2020.

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Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 3:29 pm, 17th December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my hon. Friend Alexander Stafford on securing the debate. While hydrogen is the new kid on the block, and much work needs to be done to advance its use from a technical perspective and to enhance its economic viability, it is becoming increasingly clear that it will be a vital component of the zero-carbon economy.

Hydrogen is highly versatile and can be used in a variety of ways, whether in transport, heat, power generation or energy storage in industry and agriculture. It could also transform local economies all around the UK, bringing new business opportunities and new jobs to areas, many of which have been left behind. There are colleagues taking part in this debate from all around the UK. We are not in competition. The opportunities in our respective constituencies should complement each other. They are part of a jigsaw that covers all four nations, and we need to piece together that jigsaw to benefit all the communities that we represent.

The piece of the jigsaw that I shall concentrate on is Suffolk and Norfolk—including the Waveney constituency —in East Anglia. While we do not possess any significant industrial clusters, there is an opportunity to harness hydrogen across a large geographical area to create a blueprint for how it can be deployed at scale to decarbonise our energy, transport and heating systems and to revolutionise the way in which we do business, thereby bringing prosperity to the region. I shall briefly outline the opportunities available.

There is the opportunity to ensure a smooth transition in the southern North sea oil and gas basin by redeploying infrastructure and expertise built up over five decades to create a leading hydrogen production and carbon capture and storage hub around the Bacton gas terminal in the constituency of my hon. Friend Duncan Baker. From there, we could connect into the planned European hydrogen backbone, as Bacton already hosts two gas interconnectors. Hydrogen exports could provide new and important revenue streams. With a large cluster of offshore wind farms already operational, being developed or planned off the coast of East Anglia, there is the opportunity to integrate hydrogen production and storage to provide a valuable alternative to curtailing power generation at times of surplus when the wind may be blowing too much.

There is also the opportunity to reduce emissions from large emitters such as the gas-fired power station in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Brandon Lewis, which could be adapted to take a blended hydrogen fuel. This week, the Government announced their support for the Sizewell C nuclear power station in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey. Sizewell C has the potential to make huge quantities of green hydrogen using both electricity and heat, which can be used by transport and other industry. Next year, at Sizewell B, EDF plans to install a small hydrogen electrolyser that will fuel clean construction plant, HGVs and buses. The infrastructure for that could be made available to council vehicles and, in due course, other local businesses to run hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.

There is the opportunity to decarbonise portside operations and shipping activities at the east coast ports of Harwich, Felixstowe, Ipswich, Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. From those ports, one would also seek to decarbonise road and rail freight. To turn to the rail network, the east Suffolk line, which runs from Ipswich to Lowestoft, is a vital link for the Waveney area to the rest of the country, but it does need to be improved with faster journey times. For that, we could use hydrogen-powered trains.

Finally, East Anglia is the breadbasket of the UK. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests due to family farms in Suffolk. There is an exciting opportunity for the region to be an exemplar of low-carbon agriculture, with hydrogen-fuelled tractors and combines, hydrogen-fuelled grain stores and vegetable processing plants, and environmentally friendly poultry rearing and processing facilities.

This is a compelling and exciting vision. What do we need to achieve it? Locally, we need to pull together a wide variety of interests across a large geographical area and many business sectors, so that we can promote the hydrogen economy of the east in a coherent and co-ordinated way. Nationally, Government must provide the framework for the industry to grow. The announcements in the past month are extremely welcome. The Government must now go further.

As we heard, the hydrogen strategy must be published as soon as possible. There must be a public endorsement of hydrogen as a central component in the transition to net zero, supported by a target percentage for hydrogen in the UK’s energy rates. There should be a support programme for the manufacture and deployment of UK fuel cell technologies, which matches world-class technology with investors of scale. There should be a move away from promoting competitions between regions and towards funding for well-managed, joined-up and collaborative initiatives. Finally, there should be clarity on the role of the UK’s regulatory framework with regard to hydrogen.

Hydrogen provides an incredibly exciting future for Waveney, Suffolk, East Anglia and the whole of the UK. There is a great deal of work to do. From my perspective, it is good to end what has been an awful year on an upbeat and positive note.