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Hydrogen vs. Electrification: Why Can't We Have Both?

For our latest #RUKGOW19 Event Partner blog, Taylor McKenzie, Innovation Analyst at ScottishPower Renewables, explores the opportunity for clean hydrogen in decarbonising the energy sector.

Taylor McKenzie, Innovation Analyst, ScottishPower Renewables

The UK has seen a significant increase in the amount of renewable energy generation coming onto the electricity network in recent years. This, combined with the reducing costs of offshore wind, the signing of the Offshore Wind Sector Deal, and a healthy pipeline of projects means that the UK is in a good position with its electricity decarbonisation efforts. So much so, that recently the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) published its “Zero Carbon Operation 2025” report showing its ambition to operate a zero-carbon electricity system safely and securely as soon as 2025. With a network in place to support the low carbon transition, and projects to increase the capacity, it looks like we are heading in the right direction.

Moreover, the development of Electric Vehicles (EVs) has provided an alternative, low emission option for car users. And while range anxiety is still a topic of discussion for most EV debates, uptake is evident and forecasts, though varying in optimism, agree that a significant increase is certain. Combined with smart charging, vehicle-to-grid and battery technology advancing further, the benefits are three-fold: better network management, longer range between charges, and battery cost reduction for the automotive and power sectors. Yes, challenges remain in tackling the transport conundrum – low-carbon air travel, ships and Heavy Goods Vehicles are few and far between – but there’s hope yet as we continue to see more car manufacturers bringing out their EV offering.

Heat, on the other hand, remains a trickier one to resolve. In the UK, we love gas central heating: it boosts your property value, it’s fast-acting and responsive, and given our climate, is justifiably necessary. But despite it being cleaner than coal, it’s really just the lesser of two evils. However it isn’t all doom and gloom because one thing that our addiction to gas has delivered is a gas grid that connects energy consumers all over the UK to a healthy supply of fuel. And that’s where hydrogen really can come into play.

Although the discussion of hydrogen as a “super fuel” is nothing new to many, it is only now that low carbon transport and heat are being addressed (at least in the mainstream). In the Committee on Climate Change’s landmark report on how the UK can achieve zero emissions, hydrogen plays a key role. The CCC says ‘a significant low-carbon hydrogen economy will be needed to help tackle the challenges of industry, peak power, peak heating, heavy goods vehicles, and shipping emissions’.

Making use of existing infrastructure, easing the transition to low carbon heating for consumers, and addressing not only heat, but transport and electricity too, are just some of the benefits that “green” hydrogen offer. And green is the keyword here. I don’t believe that scaling up steam methane reforming coupled with carbon capture is the answer since that would just continue our reliance on a finite fuel. Rather, we will need to ramp up the amount of renewables on the system to support new demand that would be created by a green hydrogen economy. And that’s why we need both hydrogen and electrification to decarbonise heat and transport. They aren’t competing approaches to decarbonisation – they are two parts of the same solution.

Taylor McKenzie will be speaking about the opportunity for hydrogen in decarbonisation at the Global Offshore Wind 2019 Innovation Theatre.



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