Government releases its Hydrogen Strategy

Number 2 of the Government’s 10 Point Plan:

“Working with industry aiming to generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for industry, transport, power and homes, and aiming to develop the first town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade”

On 17 August 2021 the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) released its Hydrogen Strategy announcing, in the press release:

  • A ‘twin track’ approach to supporting multiple technologies including ‘green’ electrolytic and ‘blue’ carbon capture-enabled hydrogen production.
  • A UK hydrogen economy could be worth £900 million and create over 9,000 high-quality jobs by 2030, potentially rising to 100,000 jobs and worth up to £13 billion by 2050
  • Hydrogen could play an important role in decarbonising polluting, energy-intensive industries like chemicals, oil refineries, power and heavy transport like shipping, HGV lorries and trains
  • By 2050 20-35% of the UK’s energy consumption could be hydrogen-based.
  • A consultation to be launched, based on offshore wind, to look at ways to overcome the cost gap between low carbon hydrogen and fossil fuels, plus a consultation on a £240 million Net Zero Hydrogen Fund, to support the commercial deployment of new low carbon hydrogen production plants.
  • Working with industry to assess the safety, technical feasibility, and cost effectiveness of mixing 20% hydrogen into the existing gas supply.
  • £105 million in UK government funding provided to support polluting industries to significantly slash their emissions

In the original press release, and elsewhere, it was mentioned that 3 million homes would be powered by hydrogen by 2030 but BEIS have now amended the press release and confirmed that this was an equivalent illustration and that hydrogen will predominantly be used in heavy industry.

As stated in the strategy, with currently almost no low carbon production of hydrogen in the UK or globally, meeting the 2030 target will require rapid and significant scale up over coming years. It then describes where Hydrogen comes from:

“There are almost no abundant natural sources of pure hydrogen, which means that it has to be manufactured. The most common production route is steam methane reformation (SMR), where natural gas is reacted with steam to form hydrogen. This is a carbon-intensive process, but one which can be made low carbon through the addition of carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) – to produce a gas often called ‘blue hydrogen’. Hydrogen can also be produced through electrolysis, where electricity is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen – gas from this process is often referred to as ‘green hydrogen’ or zero carbon hydrogen when the electricity comes from renewable sources. Today most hydrogen produced and used in the UK and globally is high carbon, coming from fossil fuels with no carbon capture; less than 1% can be called low carbon. For hydrogen to play a part in our journey to net zero, all current and future production will need to be low carbon.”

So in following its “twin track” approach the government assumes that blue hydrogen will initially start the strategy going with green hydrogen becoming more abundant (and cheap) in later decades. Without specifying proportions however, it seems that in both mix and, as shown below, use, the government is relying on the market to find the best combination.

Some key points:

Here is a graph from the report showing the estimated hydrogen demand in various sectors, in Terawatt Hours (TWh) (one Trillion Kilowatt hours), in 2030 & 2035.

Note in particular the 0-45 estimate for heating, this reflects the uncertainty about the lesser priority of hydrogen for domestic use and the availability today of alternatives, eg Heat Pumps. To put this into perspective the anticipated <1 TWh in 2030 and up to 45 TWh in 2035 represents about 0.2% and 10% respectively of the UK’s current energy demand for space and water heating.

It’s likely therefore that, as mentioned in the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC’s) balanced pathway to Net Zero, hydrogen may play a part in heating where the housing is near to the hydrogen production and electrification is not possible or where there is stored hydrogen created from surplus renewable energy.

Unless using this stored hydrogen however, it makes little sense to use green hydrogen for heating when the renewable energy used to create it would be better used to provide the heating directly and so save the wasted energy from conversion.

It’s often quoted that “the only waste from using hydrogen is water”.  This is true when hydrogen is used in “fuel cells”, where a chemical reaction takes place, or where hydrogen is burned in pure oxygen but it is not true when, as would be the case with heating, it is burned in air. Air’s main constituent is Nitrogen and burning hydrogen in it produces other pollutants, known as NOx. The strategy considers these and how industry must ensure they are kept within emission limits, opponents however consider that, along with the infrastructure changes needed, it’s unacceptable to plan for any such emissions.

As explained in an Annex, with an established battery electric vehicle industry now well established, cars and vans do not feature in transport assumptions, leaving the use of hydrogen for haulage, busses, rail, shipping and aviation however, given the rapid development in battery technology, the annex casts doubt over the likelihood of the first three. Consequently, as mentioned above, it seems the government will wait and see what the markets come up with.

In 2050 the strategy estimates somewhere between 20% to 35% of the UK’s total energy demand being provided by hydrogen.  In the CCC’s 6th Carbon Budget report last year, its balanced pathway relied upon a maximum of about 20%. Until the government releases its own energy pathway it’s not possible to reconcile the two.

As blue hydrogen relies on a supply of natural gas there’s suspicion outside government over its promotion as an energy source by the fossil fuel industry and studies, including this one in the USA, indicate that current production methods, including carbon capture and storage, result in significant CO2 and Methane (CH4) emissions, both in the extraction of the gas in the first place and then leakage in the capture and storage processes. 

This view was reinforced by reports that Chris Jackson, the chair of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association resigned in advance of the government’s strategy saying he could no longer lead an industry association that included oil companies backing blue hydrogen projects, because the schemes were “not sustainable” and “make no sense at all”.

As mentioned above, in its twin track approach, the government sees blue hydrogen as useful in creating a path to green hydrogen but, with BEIS talking about up to 15 year contracts, concern has been voiced among climate groups that over-reliance on blue could lock the UK into decades of North Sea gas production, fossil-fuel imports and millions of tonnes of carbon emissions. 

ACT’s view is that there will be a place for hydrogen in providing energy where electrification is not possible and in some industrial and chemical processes. With the uncertainties over the impacts of its production however and without scaled-up and effective capture and storage, blue hydrogen is wholly inappropriate as a solution and so efforts are better directed towards immediate reductions in the use of fossil fuels with any hydrogen pathway being primarily towards green hydrogen.

Other relevant links:

ACT’s Technologies to support Net Zero Section 3 Hydrogen

The Telegraph Billions to be funnelled into hydrogen subsidies as UK races to hit net zero

The Guardian Government reveals plans for £4bn hydrogen investment by 2030 

BBC News Hydrogen power offers jobs boost, says government

UKERC Pathway to net zero heating in the UK

The Climate Change Committee Hydrogen in a low-carbon economy

Site options for the Teignbridge local plan to be consulted on

A meeting of the council executive on 1st June passed a motion to run a public consultation on site options for the local plan from 14th June to 9th August.

Executive Committee meeting

You can watch the proceedings of the executive committee here , this gives access to a recording of the whole meeting, the local plan is item 6 on the agenda, which you can select from the menu on the right.

Jackie Hook said “We will have to choose some sites, help us to choose the least damaging. This isn’t however about who can gather the biggest petition against a site, this is about bringing to the council’s attention additional planning related information and knowledge.”

Local plan consultation on sites

Part 2 of the local plan has now been published and can be found here.

Housing Numbers

As you may know, the Government has told Teignbridge it must build 751 houses a year (they had planned to order 1,532 houses a year!). The council therefore has to identify the sites where the houses can be built. If we do not do this the Government will take over planning at Teignbridge and increase the numbers by 20%.

This consultation asks that members of the public help by:

  1. Checking through the sites and see what may be proposed in your community and commenting about the sites.
  2. Sharing the consultation with your friends and family living in Teignbridge. It’s really important as many people as possible know about the proposals and say what they think to Teignbridge.

This could well be the last time local people are given a say in major planning decisions like this.
The Government is proposing to bring in a new system under which land will be zoned. Anything designated for ‘growth’ will be deemed to have ‘planning permission in principle’.
Government ministers claim their plan will eliminate ‘red tape’ but many fear that it abolishes any meaningful involvement of residents and local councils in planning matters.
The consultation on the possible housing sites ends at 12 Noon on Monday 9th August 2021. Do please have your say 

Low Carbon

Chapter 11 states Teignbridge’s 2018 carbon footprint and analyses emissions trends over the period 2008-2018, showing that the transport, buildings, agriculture and waste sectors have not reduced over that period.

Electricity consumption is estimated to grow from 468GWh to 940GWh (101%) as a result of electrification of heat and transport, as well as growth associated with growth mandated by the plan.

The report doesn’t give any detail of how this electrification will be achieved, but the proposed increase in electricity consumption is close to our own estimates based on widespread EV take-up and retrofitting the existing housing stock to near Passiv Haus standards. Indeed the growth in electricity demand is slightly lower than we estimated, so some other demand reduction must be assumed.

Possible sites are identified for 217GWh of wind and 726GWh of solar, totalling 953GWh. So on a whole year basis enough to meet demand. The report identifies a number of constraints, which mean that this much renewable generation is unlikely to be buildable.

Peak demand occurs in the winter, when solar generation is producing least. We see already that in the recent sunny period that grid carbon intensity for the South West can get as low as 30g/kWh when most energy comes from solar and nuclear. Contrast this with winter when on a calm day most of our electricity in the South West comes from gas when grid carbon intensity can exceed 400g/kWh.

The report identifies an increase of 201GWh of demand from heating, which will mainly be needed in the winter months. It also identifies 49 GWh from additional housing, if we assume that this will also be biased towards winter, the additional winter demand could increase to 230GWh. This is more than could be supplied by the identified wind resource. So Teignbridge will need to import more renewable energy from elsewhere during the winter.

A large amount of land is identified as suitable for solar development. Here there is also scope for a significant contribution from rooftop PV, however, this is limited in practice by the ability of local substations to deal with local generation.

Update on the CEE Bill

Following our piece in the May Newsletter on the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, the CEE Bill Alliance has drafted a second (‘summary’) version of the bill, The Climate and Ecology Bill No. 2

This strengthened and condensed version of the CEE Bill is designed to present a clearer proposal, be easier to understand, function as a more effective campaign tool and amend certain sections of the first Bill in response to feedback.

Under the new bill the government will be required to:

Calculate and plan to reduce the UK’s entire carbon footprint: At the moment the UK only accounts for its “territorial” emissions, ie those we emit locally, ignoring those included in the goods and services we buy in from abroad and our fair share of international aviation and shipping. Including these emissions provides a fairer “consumption” basis for our emissions but, being one of the world’s highest net importers of emissions, nearly doubles the emissions for which we are responsible.

In accordance with the stricter targets of the Paris Agreement, issued in 2018, increase the chance of the UK meeting its emissions targets using equitable policies: The UK’s current net zero target is based on a greater than 50% chance of limiting global heating to a 1.5°C rise in temperature. To be fair to future generations, this needs to increase to 66%. In consideration of the UK’s historic emissions and its capabilities as a developed nation it needs to account for a proportionately smaller share of the global carbon budget, reduce emissions at a faster rate than developing countries and provide support for them to do so.

Adhere to national carbon budgets set each year, not every five years.

Reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions primarily by stopping emissions caused by human activity, whilst also ending the extraction, export and import of fossil fuels: Little discussed even 10 years ago, the UK and most developed countries are assuming that, in the decades ahead, technologies will be available to remove vast quantities of carbon dioxide from high emitting sources, such as power stations, or even to remove it directly from the air, and then safely store it underground. Reliance on such speculative and unproven at scale technologies not only fosters delay in dealing with emissions but also passes the problem to future generations. Consequently the bill requires the emphasis to be on actually reducing emissions, rather than removing them once they are made.

Follow a strict nature target to ensure that it reverses the decline in the state of nature no later than 2030: The state of nature is defined as the abundance and distribution of plant and animal species; risk of extinction; extent and condition of priority habitats; and health and enrichment of ecosystems.

Actively conserve and restore nature: Focussing both on biodiversity and soils’ protection, restoring natural carbon sinks, such as in the conservation of woodlands, and restoring peat bogs all of which act as a natural reservoir for carbon and to keep it out of the atmosphere;

Take responsibility for its entire ecological footprint: This means preventing adverse impacts on ecosystems and human health caused by consumption, trade and production, in the UK and internationally, including the extraction of raw materials, deforestation, land degradation, pollution and waste.

Create “Citizens Assemblies”: Being representative of the UK population, to work directly with the Climate Change Committee and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, before the strategies are laid before Parliament.

Full details of the Bill, its supporters and ways in which you can lobby your MP, are on The CEE Bill Alliance’s website.

Know your Net Zero from your NETs and BECCS

The history of and debate over Net Zero:
In 2015, nearly 200 countries signed up to the Paris Agreement committing “to limit the global temperature increase in this century to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C”.

Calculations were made of the maximum amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and equivalent gases, (collectively known as CO2e) that could still be emitted to have a chance of remaining within this temperature range and this “Carbon Budget” allocated fairly amongst signatories to decide how and when to restrict their own emissions.

Many scientists believe that reducing emissions to zero, as soon as possible, should be the prime target. However during negotiations in Paris, it was believed that this “Zero Carbon” policy would result in significant downturns in the economies of the richest countries and so, to reach consensus, countries were permitted to include methods to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. In other words, with a carbon budget of 1 tonne, you can emit 1.2 tonne as long as you can find a way to remove 0.2 tonne.

So when our government legislated for “Net Zero by 2050” the UK could still be emitting say 100 Mt (million tonnes) of CO2e per annum in 2050 (mainly from agriculture and aviation) and so must plan to remove at least the same amount to get to Net Zero.

Many scientists consider the Net Zero (also known as Carbon Neutral) methodology to be false accounting in that by anticipating removals, especially after 2050, we risk exceeding carbon budgets before 2050, causing spikes in temperature and irreversible climate tipping points thus making the later removals irrelevant. There is also concern that by providing false hope over the ability to remove emissions in the future, less effort will be made to reduce emissions now. The conclusion of a study by Lancaster University in 2019 was that trying to synchronise both emission reductions and removals, over thirty years, into a single Net Zero target was unrealistic and that the two routes should be approached separately, aiming for the best achievable result in each.

The calculation of fair national shares of the global carbon budget has also generated disagreement in that richer nations, like the UK, will calculate their share without recognising significant historic emissions still present in the atmosphere, leaving unfair shares for poorer nations that still need to emit to grow their economies.

“Removals” is the generic term for removing emissions and this is also referred to as Carbon Dioxide Removals (CDR). There are many different ways in which removals can be achieved and they can be broadly categorised as either Nature-based or Engineered.

Nature has several ways to draw down carbon dioxide from the air and store it, either short or long term. The best known is in plant growth. Trees and other land or sea plants use photosynthesis to draw down CO2 from the air for growth and to pass some to the soil or seabed as carbon as they decay. The short term cycle involves the trees and plants dying and decaying, with a release of CO2 back into the atmosphere, whereas peatlands, for example, can remove and store carbon for indefinite periods and, in the past two hundred years, we have burned such long term carbon as coal, oil or gas.

The process of natural storage, in say the soil, is known as “sequestration” and where it is stored is known as a carbon “sink”.

The government and its advisors, The Climate Change Committee (CCC), are therefore anticipating extensive tree planting and peatland restoration in the next few decades with the CCC’s 2050 net zero plan forecasting an extra 39 Mt of CO2e per annum being sequestered by natural processes in 2050.

On paper and in trials, industry has started to explore engineered ways to remove CO2 and store it. This is known as “Carbon Capture & Storage” (CCS) and the various methods of doing it “Negative Emission Technologies” (NETs).

The main group of NETs are “Bio-energy with Carbon Capture & Storage” (BECCS) which involve the creation of bio-energy from organic matter (biomass) and capturing/storing the resulting CO2, usually by pumping it into exhausted gas and oil wells. BECCS was the technology agreed outside the main Paris agreement as being the economically acceptable way to meet “Net Zero” targets.

There are several BECCS technologies however the main one involves burning wood for power. The UK’s Drax power complex provides about 6% of the country’s electricity and, moving away from coal and gas, currently burns about 20,000 tons of wood pellets a day, sourced mainly from North American forests. It has started trial CCS facilities onsite capturing about 400 tonnes of CO2 per annum with plans to eventually capture and store 16 Mt per annum.

The principle behind this is that, growing, burning and capturing the CO2 from trees provides greater carbon savings than just leaving them to grow, die and decay. There are however doubts over relying upon unproven technology, the availability of sustainable sources of wood, conflicts with land for food production and the fact it takes years for new tree plantings to grow for harvesting. It is also the case that not all of the CO2 from the transporting, processing and burning of the trees, can be captured.

On the plus side the capturing and storage process itself takes energy and so the exhaust heat from the power station can provide this.

The CCC’s 2050 Net Zero plan involves engineered removals of about 58 Mt of CO2e per annum by 2050, with the various forms of BECCS providing 53 Mt and the other 5 Mt coming to scale in perhaps twenty years in the form of “Direct Air Capture & Storage” (DACCS), in which CO2 is removed from the air and stored.

In simple terms offsetting is the practice in which, instead of reducing your own emissions, you pay someone else to reduce theirs. For example, you can still do this when you fly, by paying for tree planting to offset your emissions.

In the majority of cases offsetting has involved rich industries and individuals paying their poorer cousins but it has also been done on a national basis with one country investing in the NETs of another or, as indicated by the CCC, rather than struggling to reduce its own emissions, the UK might instead increase foreign aid to assist other nations to reduce theirs.

This practice may well have been an incentive in the past for industries and nations but the majority of countries have signed up to the Paris agreement and, with fair carbon budget allocations, each can look after their own, in other words it is fallacious to pay for someone to do something they were bound to do anyway and, in order to reduce emissions as fast as possible, the best approach, as set out in the Paris Agreement, is for the rich to reduce their own emissions and assist the poor to do the same.

See also The Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill