Hydrogen power could play a key part in the UK's race to reach net zero carbon

energy bills
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A number of industry experts have claimed that hydrogen power could play a significant role in how the UK achieves its net zero carbon targets.

This is according to a report from the BBC’s Science Focus magazine, which reflected on last month’s announcement by the government of its new ‘UK hydrogen strategy’.

Those involved in the report have speculated that should the roll out of the new strategy follow the government’s proposals, we could see significant increases in the production of ‘blue’ and ‘green’ hydrogen to replace polluting fossil fuels. Moreover, the hydrogen energy could be used alongside renewables like wind and solar and hydrogen fuel cells could become something we one day find in most new cars. 

All of this could notably drive down carbon emissions, but wider benefits for consumers may involve more availability of tariffs that include renewables, cheaper energy costs and, of course, a cleaner and greener environment. 

However, before this happens, there are some logistical and financial challenges that need to be addressed.

What is the ‘UK hydrogen strategy’?

In the middle of August 2021, the government set out an approach to develop ‘a thriving low carbon hydrogen sector in the UK to meet our ambition (net zero) for 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030’. 

This plan covered a number of areas that the government believes will allow us to reach our carbon targets and at the same time ‘unlock £4bn of investment in blue and green generation, storage and usage’.

These areas – as detailed by sustainability brand Edie – can be broken down into five key points that cover:

  • Mirroring the same success with hydrogen production that we’ve seen with our offshore wind production.
  • Producing different kinds of hydrogen power and technology, including blue and green hydrogen and fuel cells.
  • Using hydrogen power to improve our nationwide heating processes and dramatically reduce the current system’s carbon output.
  • The same could apply to transport with the use of hydrogen fuel cells.
  • Supporting ‘energy-intensive’ industries in their individual decarbonisation goals.

How will we source the ‘blue’ and ‘green’ hydrogen?

Producing the two types of hydrogen power involves different processes, with one – as the name suggests – being much greener than the other. According to Dr Eike Thaysen, Experimental Geosciences Technical Research Assistant at the University of Edinburgh: "So-called 'green' hydrogen is produced by splitting water into its constituent parts, hydrogen and oxygen, using electricity derived from renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power".

When it comes to blue hydrogen, Dr Thaysen went on to explain that the process involves: "the reaction of steam with methane, where the carbon emissions from this process are captured and stored". However, despite the use of some fossil fuels during its production, experts have highlighted the amounts used are much less than with natural gas. What’s more, the use of blue hydrogen 'helps develop value chains and can help industry cut emissions quickly'.  

The challenges involved

Another benefit is that hydrogen can be relatively easily incorporated into the current gas network and infrastructure. It’s believed that hydrogen could initially be blended with natural gas - around 20 percent of the total gas volume - with scope to eventually grow this to 100 percent.

However, in order to achieve this, the network of gas lines would need to be upgraded, as only the yellow polyethylene pipes that are used on modern gas works can accommodate hydrogen. The older iron pipes would need to be removed and replaced.

Alongside the physical production of hydrogen power, tasks like the above would be a significant and expensive undertaking. Robert Goss, Professor of Energy Policy and Technology at Imperial College, offered his thoughts on this and detailed some of the wider challenges:

"Hydrogen has the potential to be incredibly useful. It could literally reach the sectors other options can’t, in industry and aviation.

"The sheer volume of energy needed in single sectors, like domestic heating or transport, is immense. Considering the minuscule amount of hydrogen we use for energy today, the challenge is huge. So hydrogen won’t be a quick fix or a universal panacea."

How we can make a difference today

The success of the government’s ‘UK hydrogen strategy’ is also subject to it getting the right funding and support from the majority of sectors, which at present, is still an ongoing process. So, while there’s no doubting the benefits hydrogen power could bring, it may still be a few years until we as consumers truly start to see the benefits with our energy use.

However, this doesn’t mean we don’t have opportunities to make a difference today. By taking steps to actively reduce your energy consumption, you can help in the race for net zero. What’s more, it can save on the costs of your bills. At the same time, you may also want to run an online energy comparison to find and switch to a greener energy tariff. These eco-conscious tariffs can come with electricity from 100% renewable sources, or at least have a much greener fuel mix.

In addition to this, you can find that some of the best energy deals right now are in fact green tariffs, and in many instances, they can be cheaper than the tariff you’re currently using. These details are something an online energy comparison service can show you, plus they can even tell you who the best energy suppliers are right now and can explain the extra benefits you could enjoy by moving to a new provider.

Find the best energy deal for your homeSave money now

Find the best energy deal for your home
TechRadar has partnered with GoCompare to help you find the best energy deals in your area. Our energy comparison tool takes less than five minutes to use, and could save you hundreds on your energy bills. Save money now

Richard Hart

Rich is a freelance copywriter and content strategist with over 10 years' experience. His career has seen him work in-house and in various agencies, producing online and offline content marketing campaigns and copywriting for clients in the energy industry.