7 Years, 35 days, 17 hours…
Thursday marked day four of the Sustainable Innovation Forum 2020, which saw a variety of sessions discussing the decarbonisation of the Heavy Industry sector. Kwasi Kwarteng, Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, took part in the “Technological Solution for Industrial Decarbonisation: is hydrogen the silver bullet?” session along with a panel of other industry experts. Recent announcements on carbon reduction commitments from countries such as China, Japan and South Korea, along with the confirmation that the US will rejoin the Paris agreement in January, have helped ramp up the decarbonisation agenda and now more than ever, it seems that the global community is on the same page.
The topic of hydrogen, and whether it is the ‘silver bullet’, is one that is at the forefront of current climate discussions. Kwarteng himself declared Green Hydrogen the “energy source of the future” and refused to accept the idea that industry will not adapt to its use. But one of the key takeaways from yesterday was that the move to hydrogen will not be an easy one, and many barriers will need to be overcome for industries to adapt. As panellists discussed, there are risks that come with the movement to new technologies and where some rise, others will fall.
Though there are certainly barriers for industries in accommodating hydrogen-based technologies, the real issue is that hydrogen is not a solution we can deploy today to meet our urgent need to cut emissions. The government may have its eyes on hydrogen as a long-term energy source, but we need ready-to-use technologies such as AD – here and now – not solutions that have been promised to materialise for the past 30 years. In addition, the reliance of ‘blue’ hydrogen, i.e. hydrogen generated from fossil gas, on carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) is a major limiting factor, given that it is also not ready for wide-scale commercial use, not to mention the fact that blue hydrogen is not a renewable energy source. It makes it hard to point to this as our “silver bullet”. Given that blue hydrogen is notably cheaper than green, i.e. hydrogen sourced from renewables wind and solar electricity or from biomethane, the right policy incentives will be crucial to ensure that development stimulates a transition to a genuinely green gas pathway and the right decarbonising technologies are being incentivised. Some report that green hydrogen will not be commercially viable until 2040, making its suitability as a carbon abating strategy somewhat lacklustre given the need to reduce emissions in the next seven and a half years.
The government must ensure that the value the biomethane industry delivers, not only in decarbonising energy, but also waste, recycling of organics, and mitigating soil degradation, is not forgotten. Hydrogen provides just one of these benefits and it will not be ready soon enough. Yes, as Kwarteng acknowledged, industry growth is possible in a short period of time, as has been demonstrated by the rise of wind power capacity. But while it can be demanded that companies adapt to these pipeline technologies, we only have 7 Years, 35 days, 17 hours…before we burn through our carbon budget. We need to ensure decarbonising energy sources that are ready to go now are not lost in the hype of a far-off future.
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