UK Hydrogen Economy

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 4:11 pm on 17th December 2020.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 4:11 pm, 17th December 2020

I congratulate Alexander Stafford on securing the debate, having guided it through the Backbench Business Committee process. He made an excellent case for the relevance and importance of the hydrogen economy, as did pretty much every hon. Member who spoke. It was a great pleasure to find that, far from my previous preconception, we have such a number of dedicated hydrogen geeks in this House able to put forward the debate in such a knowledgeable and concise way for our edification.

I do not need to reprise too much of that content, because we agree that the potential for the hydrogen economy in this country is not only bright but essential in our drive to net zero. We heard about how hydrogen will play a substantial role in the decarbonisation of heat and the efficiency of energy going into homes. We heard that it is more than possible to inject hydrogen into the system—after all, town gas used to be about 50% hydrogen before natural gas was introduced into the system, so it is not a new thing, but it could aid us enormously in getting down to net zero in our heating. Beyond 20%, we can envisage hydrogen towns, hydrogen islands and a whole range of hydrogen-heated areas. I was slightly disappointed to see in the energy White Paper how the Government are only thinking about consulting on hydrogen-ready boilers for the future. We need to get on with that now. Let us mandate hydrogen-ready boilers across the country tomorrow so that they are ready and we have the proper equipment to make it work when these things come to pass.

We also heard this afternoon about the role that hydrogen can play in heavy vehicular transport. I was slightly disappointed to read in the 10-point plan that the Government are consulting

“on a date for phasing out the sale of new diesel heavy goods vehicles”.

I hope that that can be done pretty immediately. We need to phase them out and replace them, as far as possible, with hydrogen-based heavy goods vehicles, because that is the obvious fuel for long-distance logistics.

We also heard about developments in other areas of transportation. Hydrogen trains and hydrogen buses are an essential part of our low-carbon fleet for the future. My hon. Friend Christian Matheson, Andy Carter and others spoke about the enormous opportunities in industrial clusters for the development and use of hydrogen. Those clusters stand ready to go now, and we need to get behind them as quickly as we can. Getting that work under way is a very important part of the future of the hydrogen economy.

I will briefly sound a little note of caution, which hon. Members did mention—albeit in passing—about the future. We need to recognise that hydrogen does not grow in the ground, but is produced; the question of how we produce it will be an essential element of the future health of the hydrogen economy. Hon. Members briefly mentioned the distinction between grey, blue, red and green hydrogen. We are getting an increasing number of colours in the hydrogen market.

Green hydrogen is, of course, hydrogen produced by electrolysis and therefore completely carbon neutral in its production and deployment. As Claudia Webbe said, grey hydrogen comes from the process of cracking it from gas, with the obvious outcome of a large amount of carbon dioxide that has to be CCS’d if it is to become blue hydrogen and have any hope of taking part in the low-carbon economy. If we allow the production of hydrogen over the next period to go into the grey rather than the green camp, we will overthrow a lot of what we want to do regarding the low-carbon element of the hydrogen economy.

I earnestly ask the Government—I raised this briefly in BEIS questions yesterday—to consider very carefully what they back with the £240 million hydrogen fund announced in the 10-point plan and the energy White Paper. If that goes into grey hydrogen production, we will not have sorted out for ourselves a very good base for the hydrogen economy in the context of low carbon. If, on the other hand, we ensure early on that we have a head start in the world on the mass production of green hydrogen, we will not only put our hydrogen economy securely on a low-carbon base, but have tremendous potential export opportunities for jobs and industry—particularly the industrial clusters that were mentioned.

It is essential that we invest early in green hydrogen to get the hydrogen economy going properly. I have seen the very interesting minutes of the meeting that the Minister got together in June to discuss those points further; that was very much an element of the Council for Science and Technology briefing that he took part in. I hope he has firmly taken the message on board about future hydrogen production. Hydrogen has a bright future, but we have to create it in the right way to make it as bright as it can be. If we get it wrong at this stage, we will regret it severely, in terms of our net-zero carbon ambitions.