A £900m dash for greener gas: Ministers unveil blueprint for a hydrogen revolution

Household energy bills are expected to rise amid plans to force homes into using hydrogen heating.  

The starting gun for a new ‘dash for gas’ was fired yesterday as the Government launched its strategy for Britain to burn hydrogen and create a £900million industry in the next five years.

Energy Strategy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that creating a UK hydrogen industry would lead to 9,000 jobs by 2030, by which time the sector’s economy would be worth £4billion. This would rise to 100,000 jobs and £13billion in economic benefits by 2050, he said.

But a government consultation admits that costs could be ‘passed on to consumers through energy bills’.

Energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan told The Times that despite it being too soon to say how much the switch to hydrogen would cost households, the sum will likely be ‘very small’.  

She said: ‘The key point is that if you look at offshore wind, [the subsidies] provide long-term security for industry to be able to invest and then the prices come down. 

‘At an individual level [the cost] will be very small. If you look at wind energy it’s in that sort of scale.’

Hydrogen is considered a ‘key pillar’ in the quest to make Britain ‘net zero’ – or emitting zero greenhouse gases – by 2050.

Hydrogen is considered a ‘key pillar’ in the quest to make Britain ‘net zero’ – or emitting zero greenhouse gases – by 2050

Hydrogen is considered a ‘key pillar’ in the quest to make Britain ‘net zero’ – or emitting zero greenhouse gases – by 2050

Hydrogen is considered a ‘key pillar’ in the quest to make Britain ‘net zero’ – or emitting zero greenhouse gases – by 2050

It’s also seen as vital way of fuelling planes, trains, lorries and heavy machinery – where electric power is not an option.

Hydrogen producers will get paid subsidies to scale up the use of the gas – currently produced at ‘minuscule’ levels – although the Government has not yet decided how this would be funded.

What is Britain’s target on using fossil fuels? 

 Britain has set itself a tough target – to completely switch its economy away from fossil fuel by 2050.

The UK’s United Nations Climate Conference COP26 – this year in Glasgow –means it must also show it is cleaning up its energy supply act.

While officials believe that it will be possible to move to hydrogen, investment will be needed to ensure pipes and boilers are safe. Hydrogen has the advantage over fuels like oil and gas that require deep-sea drilling as it is everywhere on Earth in water.

But to unlock it requires a relatively large amount of energy.

The Government is making £900million of funding available to support UK hydrogen projects. They include Acorn Hydrogen in St Fergus, Aberdeenshire. Other projects include hydrogen-powered buses by Wrightbus in Belfast, which has been given £8million over the past four years.

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But the proposals may prove controversial if hydrogen production costs mean higher energy bills.

MP for Bassetlaw, Brendan Clarke-Smith, said that it was a ‘hard sell’ asking Britons to make sacrifices while ‘China, Russia etc’ are ‘carrying on as usual’. 

Ms Trevelyan said: ‘Any change causes anxiety. We are taking on one of the great challenges because we need to.’

Experts are also examining whether it will be safe to mix existing gas supplies with 20 per cent hydrogen to cut the environmental impact of industry, heating and cooking.

Hydrogen – if produced at scale – could also be a more desirable alternative to heat pumps, which critics say are dearer than traditional boilers.

But experts said this would not be ready by 2035 – the cut-off point for traditional boilers burning natural gas.

The Government said hydrogen would be used for between just 20-35 per cent of the country’s energy supply by 2050.

But its proposal triggered criticism from green groups, who say that much of the UK’s new gas will be so-called ‘blue hydrogen’ – made by burning traditional natural gas, which creates carbon dioxide that must be stored.

Eventually, ‘green hydrogen’ produced cleanly from water by using wind and solar energy could take over. Ministers say hydrogen could clean up industries such as oil refineries by helping the sectors move away from fossil fuels.

Mr Kwarteng said: ‘Today marks the start of the UK’s hydrogen revolution. This home-grown clean energy source has the potential to transform the way we power our lives and will be essential to tackling climate change and reaching Net Zero.’

The Government also said it would launch a £240million Net Zero Hydrogen Fund to support hydrogen producers.

Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: ‘Hydrogen produced from renewable energy is genuinely low carbon, and genuinely useful in some areas of the economy where electrification is difficult.’ But he warned that producing large quantities from fossil gas would lock the UK into costly infrastructure, and pointed to a US study suggesting blue hydrogen may even create more carbon dioxide than by burning natural gas.

Andy Prendergast, of the GMB union welcomed the plan, but urged that the mistakes of wind power were not repeated – with vital equipment such as turbines built overseas.

Energy Strategy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng (pictured) said that creating a UK hydrogen industry would lead to 9,000 jobs by 2030

Energy Strategy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng (pictured) said that creating a UK hydrogen industry would lead to 9,000 jobs by 2030

Energy Strategy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng (pictured) said that creating a UK hydrogen industry would lead to 9,000 jobs by 2030

And Professor Rob Gross, of the UK Energy Research Centre and professor of energy policy and technology at Imperial College, said: ‘Hydrogen has the potential to be incredibly useful’, but added: ‘Considering the minuscule amount of hydrogen we use for energy today the challenge is huge.’

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