Government hydrogen strategy ‘not a route to net zero’

Only zero-carbon green hydrogen can genuinely play a role in sustainable energy, says Green New Deal spokesperson Zoe Nicholson, with blue hydrogen made from fossil fuels taking ‘investment away from actual sustainable energy options’.

A power station
A power station

American Public Power Association

Green World

The Green Party has criticised the UK government’s announcement of a new ‘hydrogen economy’ today, saying that ‘dirty hydrogen’ cannot form a part of the green industrial revolution.

The UK Government yesterday released its new hydrogen strategy, which aims to cut carbon emissions and help achieve its net zero goals. However, the strategy includes proposals for the use of blue hydrogen, an energy source manufactured from large volumes of fossil fuels. The Greens are adamant that only green hydrogen, produced using renewable electricity and with almost no CO2 emissions, can realistically play a role in reaching net zero.

Zoe Nicholson, Green New Deal spokesperson for the Green Party, said: “This is a typical Government move to try and make it look as if they are making some kind of positive shift away from fossil fuels, when in fact the reality is nothing of the kind. Creating dirty hydrogen from fossil fuels doesn’t help make any progress towards net zero and instead takes investment away from actual sustainable energy options.”

The Government statement focused mainly on promises of 9,000 new jobs, a £4 billion private investment, and the exportation of excess energy in the long term as benefits of the new hydrogen economy.

It claims that 20-35 per cent of the UK’s energy consumption could be hydrogen-based by 2050, helping to meet its target of cutting emissions by 78 per cent by 2035. The blue hydrogen would first be used to power homes and businesses, and in the transport sector, before adaptation for industries like oil refineries and heavy transportation.

However, blue hydrogen is not produced sustainably, with researchers from Stanford University warning that it could have a 20 per cent greater carbon footprint than coal and gas. 

The energy source is initially produced as grey hydrogen, manufactured by the steam reforming of methane, which produces 9 parts of carbon dioxide for every 1 part of hydrogen. Grey hydrogen is then turned blue by depositing the waste product underground through carbon capture. 99 per cent of hydrogen currently produced for industrial uses is grey hydrogen.

Green hydrogen, an energy source supported by the Greens, is produced via electrolysis, a process wherein water is separated into oxygen and hydrogen. When the electricity used comes from renewable sources, the process is entirely zero-carbon. However, this means that green hydrogen is two to three times more expensive to produce than blue hydrogen.

Zoe Nicholson added: “It looks like yet again the Government is putting the interests of its friends in the gas industry ahead of the environment.”

In its statement, the Government additionally announced that it has postponed the decision on whether the blue hydrogen produced would be used for heating homes until 2026.

Nicholson continued: “The idea that we can wait another five years to look at the energy we use to heat our homes is frankly ludicrous. There needs to be a focus right now on insulating homes and installing heat pumps which would both go a long way in making homes warmer and cheaper to run as well as cutting emissions right now.

“Truly green hydrogen and derived fuels will play an important role in our sustainable future, primarily for transport like HGVs and ships, industry and balancing the electricity supply and demand.”