Hydrogen will not play a major role in the UK’s efforts to reach net zero although it can grow to become “a big niche” fuel in particular sectors, MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Committee have said.
In a new report, the Committee argues that hydrogen will probably have a “specific but limited” role in decarbonising sectors, for example where electrification is not possible, and as a means of storing energy.
MPs urge the government to give the industry more clarity over how and when it will make decisions about the role of hydrogen in the UK economy.
While hydrogen is a potentially zero-carbon fuel source, it can be more carbon intensive than gas and coal if derived from fossil fuels rather than through electrolysis powered by a renewable energy source. Currently, 95 per cent of hydrogen produced worldwide is produced from fossil fuels by splitting natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide and therefore has a high carbon footprint.
The report said that hydrogen is not likely to be “practically and economically viable” for mass use in the short and medium term for heating homes or fuelling passenger cars.
This is due to the significant cost, technological and infrastructure challenges associated, as well as the “unassailable” market lead held by alternatives such as electric cars.
The Committee said it was “unconvinced” that hydrogen will be able to play a widespread role in heating homes by 2026, when the government has said it could start requiring new gas boilers in homes to be ‘hydrogen-ready’, though it could be feasible to blend some hydrogen with natural gas.
It also argues that policy for hydrogen metering in homes has been “overlooked”, with the energy regulator Ofgem unable to say whether current smart meters would be suitable for hydrogen, or the cost implications for the consumer if they are not suitable.
Committee chair Greg Clark MP said: “Hydrogen can play an important role in decarbonising the UK’s economy, but it is not a panacea.
“There are significant infrastructure challenges associated with converting our energy networks to use hydrogen and uncertainty about when low-carbon hydrogen can be produced at scale at an economical cost.
“But there are important applications for hydrogen in particular industries so it can be, in the words of one witness to our inquiry, “a big niche”.
“We welcome the government’s high-level strategy and support of hydrogen trials, but future decisions on the role of hydrogen must increasingly be practical, taking into account what is technically and economically achievable. We call on the government to set out a series of decision points, which would give industry the clarity that it needs.”
A government spokesperson said: “A low-carbon hydrogen sector here in the UK will be critical to delivering energy security, economic growth, and our net zero ambitions.
“We expect to have up to 2GW low-carbon hydrogen projects in construction or operation by 2025, half of which delivered through our CCUS programme. We are supporting this through our £240m Net Zero Hydrogen Fund, the Hydrogen Production Business Model and the £1bn CCS Infrastructure Fund.
“The UK has a world leading ambition for 10GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, with at least half from electrolytic hydrogen, which could unlock 12,000 jobs and £9bn in private investment across the country this decade.
“Hydrogen could play an important role in helping decarbonising heat in buildings, but the Government has been clear that a decision on this will not be made until 2026, allowing for full consideration of relevant evidence.”