UK Hydrogen Economy

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:43 pm on 17th December 2020.

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Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South 3:43 pm, 17th December 2020

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. It is lovely to hear a time limit mentioned when I have a 25-minute talk—I will pull it right down to three or four minutes.

It is a pleasure to follow my near neighbour, Christian Matheson. He said a tremendous amount of the things that I was going to say—he must have seen my speech. However, I have learnt that when things are worth saying, say them several times, and I certainly will. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Alexander Stafford. He made an excellent opening to this debate, and covered so many points.

To start, may I ask the Minister a question? Has he yet been in a hydrogen car? I suspect that the answer is no. Last week, for the first time, I had the pleasure of test-driving a new hydrogen car. I will let the Chamber into a secret: it was just like driving a normal car, but with one crucial difference—there were no carbon emissions. That is the real benefit that we will get from investing in and moving forward with hydrogen.

We are quite some way from the mass roll-out of hydrogen vehicles. When we sat in a hydrogen car in Warrington and I said, “Where can we fill up?”, the answer was Rotherham, which is about 200 miles away, or perhaps 100 miles away. By the time someone had driven from Rotherham to Warrington and back, they would not be able to go to many other places without filling up. We have a huge job to do as a nation to get ready for hydrogen, because as yet there is nowhere in the north of England to refuel a vehicle.

Despite that, hydrogen is certainly the future of our long-term energy needs as we head towards net zero. We have a lot of opportunities in Warrington, Cheshire and the wider north-west to drive forward a new hydrogen economy at pace. I say that because, as the hon. Member for City of Chester indicated, energy is in our DNA in Warrington, certainly with nuclear, but with hydrogen development too.

Encouragingly, the industry in Warrington is at the forefront of proposals that are deliverable quickly and that protect and support high-value employment. We could see perhaps 6,000 green jobs in the local economy as a result of investing in hydrogen. Key businesses in my constituency, including Novelis, one of the UK’s largest aluminium recycling plants, and Solvay, a key employer based outside Stockton Heath, have been in touch to invite the Minister to Warrington to see some of the opportunities that hydrogen could present for their sectors.

By 2050, our energy system will look very different from today. One of the most advanced schemes that will contribute to that is HyNet, which could start capturing industrial carbon dioxide emissions as early as 2025—just five years away—if the Government make speedy decisions on the industrial decarbonisation challenge programme, which is my key ask for the Minister today. By the mid-2030s, HyNet could be capturing more than 25 million tonnes of CO2 per annum, which is two and a half times the national target that the Government hope to achieve by 2030. The north-west can really contribute to that target.

As the hon. Member for City of Chester said, there are wider domestic applications too. I talked earlier about driving a hydrogen vehicle for the first time. I also chair the all-party parliamentary light rail group. We have seen huge developments in hydrogen-powered trams. We have been looking at them in the United Arab Emirates, and I am looking forward to getting on a plane and going out to see them in the not-too-distant future.

For use in the gas network, as has already been mentioned, hydrogen can be stored as pressurised gas ready for use in the pipes. Cheshire has the largest UK storage capacity for hydrogen in the salt caverns, which have excellent geographical and geological properties, and are one of the most cost-effective options, which makes them a preferred site for development.

We could start to produce low-carbon hydrogen at scale by the middle of the next decade at Stanlow, subject to a positive decision on HyNet. Together with our production and storage capacity, that makes Cheshire and Warrington, and the wider Merseyside corridor, a prime candidate to be one of the first low-carbon industrial clusters in the UK. As my hon. Friend Peter Aldous said, however, it should not be a competition between areas of the UK; it has to be a jigsaw that comes together. Without every part of the UK contributing, we will not see the UK benefiting in the way that it could.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Jacob Young on his work as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on hydrogen. I hope that he will not mind me saying that in the north-west, we have that deep manufacturing history. The project will play a critical role in our fight against climate change by producing, storing and distributing hydrogen to decarbonise the north of England and north Wales.

In short, HyNet is a game changer that will provide a bedrock to level up across the north-west. It will create about 6,000 permanent highly-skilled green jobs and deliver clean hydrogen energy into our local network to heat our homes. Businesses and investors need to be confident that their investments will deliver a reasonable return for risk, and consumers need to be confident in upgrading their heating systems with potentially costly and disruptive net zero solutions.

Dr Cameron is no longer in her place, but she made an incredibly valuable point: people do not actually understand hydrogen at the moment. I talked to my wife the other evening when we were looking at the hydrogen car and she said, “Well, how does hydrogen work?” She had never really seen it. We have a real challenge in the UK, and as a Government, to convey that message to consumers so that they understand the benefits of hydrogen.

To conclude, I look forward to seeing the UK’s hydrogen strategy in spring 2021, which should set out the UK’s business models and revenue mechanisms, and the Government need to secure the private sector investment that is needed to ensure we can get the most out of hydrogen production as we head towards net zero.