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Campaigners warn hydrogen policy risks keeping UK hooked on fossil fuels

© Shutterstock / Alexander KirchBP Ineos First Hydrogen

Government policy on developing hydrogen as a new clean energy source risks keeping the UK hooked on fossil fuels, climate campaigners have warned.

Groups including E3G, Greenpeace and WWF have written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, warning that the oil and gas industry is trying to lock the UK into fossil fuel-based hydrogen.

They urged him to avoid rolling out hydrogen-ready boilers for homes nationwide or blending natural gas with hydrogen in the gas grid as it would keep the UK reliant on fossil fuels and undermine climate action.

Hydrogen, which produces only water as a by-product when it is used for energy for heating buildings, powering vehicles or industrial processes, is seen as a way of helping the UK cut its emissions to tackle the climate crisis.

But how it is produced – using renewable electricity to create hydrogen from water, or splitting natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, which then has to be captured and stored underground – affects how sustainable it is.

The climate groups are calling for the Government to focus on “green” hydrogen – made using renewable electricity – and warn against efforts by the fossil fuel sector to lock in the use of gas and its infrastructure.

They warn that “blue” hydrogen – made with natural gas – still creates climate pollution, due to methane leaks in gas extraction and because the technology to capture and bury carbon dioxide does not catch 100% of emissions.

But around three-quarters of £171 million for hydrogen projects in the Government’s industrial decarbonisation strategy is allocated for blue hydrogen projects.

The letter to Mr Kwarteng said zero-emissions “green” hydrogen – which could tap into the UK’s offshore wind resources – is likely to remain a premium commodity over the coming decade.

So the Government should focus on cleaning up sectors where cutting emissions is challenging, such as steel production, shipping and aviation, and on long-term storage in the power sector, it said.

Home heating should be provided by already available, efficient technology such as heat pumps, which the groups argue is likely to be cheaper than trying to replace gas boilers with hydrogen boilers.

The campaigners urged the UK to focus on green hydrogen to deliver wins in the international innovation race, scale up renewables such as offshore wind, support jobs and training in green hydrogen development, and pursue energy efficiency, heat pumps and district heating networks for buildings.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy adviser at E3G, said: “The Government’s hydrogen strategy and future public investment must focus on green hydrogen, produced from renewables – and avoid the risks associated with blue hydrogen made from fossil fuels.

“To shift away from high carbon infrastructure, the Government must resist this potential Trojan Horse from the fossil fuel lobby.

“Hope in hydrogen must not be clouded by hype, particularly when it comes to heating our homes,” she added.

“The Government must not block near-term progress on cheaper, more effective and readily available solutions of energy efficiency, heat pumps and renewable heat networks.”

Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, said it is worrying that the Government seems more intent on producing hydrogen from gas, coupled with carbon capture and storage technology, than from renewables.

“Carbon capture isn’t zero carbon and at scale has systematically failed after decades of trying,” he said.

“Any strategy that relies on it risks, at best, being poor value for money, and at worst ending up dead in the water.”

“The potential for renewable energy production in the UK is vast so, instead of wasting taxpayer money attempting to reheat suboptimal technology, the Government should focus on the clean option from the get-go,” he urged.

Will Webster, OGUK energy policy manager, said: “The UK is showing global leadership on tackling the climate crisis through the recent North Sea Transition Deal, which will accelerate the development of homegrown, greener energy.

“The challenge of decarbonisation is so large, we’re developing a range of technologies in the coming years to move towards net zero at pace, hydrogen being one of many.

“Relying on only one energy pathway at this stage will provide less flexibility and incur higher costs – factors which could hinder the energy transition currently underway.

“The objective is to develop all these technologies and understand the related challenges so that further solutions can be developed as the climate crisis is addressed.”

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