In just over a weeks’ time and after two years of expectation, the UK will host COP26. Around 25,000 delegates and 120 world leaders will descend onto Glasgow for the summit. Hotels and restaurants across the city are booked up for what has been billed as the biggest climate conference for a generation.
For the hydrogen industry, COP26 is an opportunity to highlight the contribution the industry can make in achieving the sustainable climate goals that nations are aiming to develop. Throughout September and October, we have been developing and running our own ‘Road to COP26’ campaign which is shining a light on the depth and breadth of UK hydrogen and fuel capability and technologies that will be at the forefront of decarbonising our planet. We have been showcasing the work of our members through political visits and videos, in order to detail the impact that hydrogen and fuel cells can have in tackling the effects of climate change, as well as in supporting UK growth, jobs and exports.
As for the conference itself, UK HFCA wants to see: as many nations as possible committing to a 2050 Net Zero future; $100bn annually confirmed for poorer nations to finance climate projects; the phasing out of coal use in power and electricity; and a commitment to do the same for vehicles that run on petrol or diesel. Importantly, we want countries to commit to writing and actually delivering implementation plans. Not only is this the outcome we need to halt dangerous climate change, it will also create market opportunities for the UK hydrogen and fuel cells industry, since countries’ implementation plans will likely point to the role of hydrogen in a number of ways.
Even better, we will be watching to see if, like during the build up to the recent G7 conference, international leaders and Ministers further commit to hydrogen as part of their pathways to Net Zero. While many countries, such as the UK, Germany, Japan and Italy all have hydrogen strategies in place, not all countries do. Those who are leading the way with hydrogen should help create awareness across other nations to help them along in the hydrogen journey. In doing so, it will complement the work that the UK HFCA does with the Department of International Trade in promoting hydrogen and the UK industry overseas.
While the conference will hopefully spur international hydrogen and fuel cell growth, it’s less likely to impact deployment targets or decisions in the UK. Instead, recent UK Government activity, from consulting on a mechanism to publicly support hydrogen production and a low carbon hydrogen standard, to the recent publication of the Government’s Heat and Building and Net Zero Strategies, will be more important for determining hydrogen’s role in the UK decarbonisation story.
Looking at both Strategies, launched on 20 October, these long-awaited documents reconfirm the importance of hydrogen for achieving Net Zero domestically. Taken together, there is much to welcome in the policy documents. The Net Zero Strategy committed £140m to fund hydrogen generation, laying the groundwork for the scale-up of hydrogen production. It also announced funding to help companies switch their fuel supplies to hydrogen, showing the key role that the technology can play in decarbonising industry. The Strategy is clear that both blue and green hydrogen can both play roles suited to decarbonising different parts of our economy. We hope that this ‘twin track’ approach will continue and that Government will ultimately recognise that their different uses require different considerations in supporting them. This is something we have emphasised in our response to Government’s recently-closed consultation on how hydrogen projects receive public funding to make them competitive with conventional fuel generation.
In terms of heating, the Heat and Building Strategy shows that the Government sees a role for hydrogen in domestic heating, dependent on the outcomes of the various feasibility trails that are taking place up and down the country. A decision is to be made in five years’ time. The Government will enable hydrogen ready boilers to be considered as an alternative requirement to natural gas boilers by 2026, meaning that the door is being kept firmly open for hydrogen. All eyes will be on the hydrogen village trial taking place in Gateshead.
It is clear that hydrogen is poised to make a big contribution to the UK’s decarbonisation journey. We now hope that over the next fortnight, we see a level of international agreement that significantly steps up the world’s response to climate change, and as part of that, creates an opportunity for our industry to play a growing global role.