In front of an audience of Government, Industry and Academic representatives, authors from leading UK universities presented their findings on The Role of Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in i) Delivering Energy Security for the UK, ii) The Future Energy Systems and iii) Creating Economic Impact for the UK.
Dennis Hayter, who hosted the launch as the Vice Chair of Hydrogen London, then presented the ways in which hydrogen and fuel cells were being employed (in buses and stationary applications) to address the challenges of air pollution and CO2 emission reduction in London.
The key technology messages from the presentations of the three white papers can be summarized as:
- Hydrogen is versatile like electricity and can play a major role alongside electricity in the low-carbon economy. Hydrogen can enable deeper decarbonisation through providing low-carbon flexibility and storage.
- Modelling suggests that both hydrogen and fuel cells form part of the least-cost solution to decarbonising the UK economy out to 2050. With no government intervention they offer the best-value route to decarbonising heavy goods vehicles, some industries and peak power generation. However, with consistent long-term commitment as much as 50% of final energy demand could be met by hydrogen in 2050, with wide-ranging uses across transport, heat and industry.
- Fuel cell vehicles are now being produced on assembly lines by major manufacturers.
- Decarbonising heat faces several challenges, with strong user requirements that hydrogen boilers and fuel cells can meet.
- Hydrogen technologies can support low-carbon electricity systems dominated by intermittent renewables and/or electric heating demand. Fuel cells provide controllable capacity that helpfully offset the additional peak demand of heat pumps.
- The ‘hydrogen economy’ is not necessary for hydrogen and fuel cells to flourish and fuel cells can contribute to UK energy system security, both now and in the future.
- Hydrogen can be produced using a broad range of feedstocks and production processes, including renewable electricity. Thus, adopting hydrogen as an end-use fuel in the long term increases UK energy diversity.
- The export potential of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies is significant and a move away from current UK use of refined fuels towards hydrogen can be expected to yield a valuable increase in GDP and employment.
- Low-cost strategic investments can be made to ‘keep the door open’ for hydrogen technologies. The option to use hydrogen in strategically important sectors can be retained for a slight increase in decarbonisation cost. This can reinforce energy security and provide insurance against other technologies failing to deliver as anticipated (e.g. carbon capture or heat pumps). Hydrogen technologies have a familiar look and feel for consumers, enabling greater personal choice in decarbonisation.
The key policy messages from the presentations include the following:
- UK firms are international leaders in power-to-gas, fuel cell vehicles, alkaline fuel cells and component supply chains for the hydrogen industry. Despite this, and in contrast with competing countries, UK energy and industrial policy implicitly neglects the development and deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.
- Supporting the electricity, heating and transport systems with hydrogen and fuel cells, through power-to-gas and peak generation, will lead to closer interactions between the power, gas and transport sectors in the future. It is advised that energy policy, especially the energy security strategy, should consider these interactions by taking a more holistic view of these markets and of the energy system as a whole.
- Indications by the Government of future policies in hydrogen and fuel cells are needed to support the long-term perspective of the transition to a low-carbon economy.
- While hydrogen and fuel cells are now being deployed for mainstream applications, now that the UK is leaving the EU, pre-commercialisation funding needed to drive full scale commerilisation is at risk. Currently, most of this funding is supplied by the European Commission.
- The UK might wisely choose to buy into continuing participation in these EU support mechanisms, through UK parties involved in successful support bids (Norwegian/Swiss model). In order to make UK support for this nascent sector more coordinated, the establishment of a single cross-cutting support agency – one similar to the German ‘NOW’ organisation/model, is recommended.
Following the presentations, Celia Greaves (UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association – UK HFCA) talked about the activities of the UK HFCA to gain policy and public support for the development of hydrogen and fuel cells in UK.
Paul Ekins (Professor of Resources and Environment Policy at UCL), who chaired the session, concluded the launch with an important message to the policy makers:
“We are at a very exciting time now for hydrogen and fuel cells, because people are realistic and pragmatic. Today there are real products, there are private vehicles, buses, all sorts of stationary applications, and there are forklifts trucks – where these products are being installed.
Policy making has an absolutely crucial role to play at this moment – the UK has a lot of strength in this area but at the moment it is considerably behind its main industrial and commercial competitor countries. This represents a threat for the country – for instance if the automotive industry globally decides to use hydrogen and fuel cells in the future we might find ourselves importing rather than exporting vehicles in the new hydrogen and fuel cell age.”
The White Papers can be downloaded on the Hub website here.
The authors of the White Paper on: The Role of Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in Delivering Energy Security for the UK. Left to right: Prof. Robert Steinberger-Wilckens (University of Birmingham), Dr. Paul E. Dodds (UCL), Dr. Zeynep Kurban (Imperial College London), Dr. Anthony Velazquez Abad (UCL)
The authors of the White Paper on: The Role of Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in The Future Energy Systems. Left to right: Dr. Daniel Scamman, Dr. Paul Dodds, Dr. Anthony Velazquez Abad (all from UCL), Dr. Iain Staffell, Prof. Nilay Shah (both from Imperial College London) and Prof. Paul Ekins (UCL).
The authors of the White Paper on: The Role of Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in Creating Economic Impact for the UK. Left to right: Dr. Paul E. Dodds (UCL), Prof. John Irvine (University of St-Andrews), Dr. Oluwafisayo Alabi, Prof. Karen Turner (both from University of Strathclyde).