The problem with the government’s £900m plan to put hydrogen in British homes

·3 min read

The British government has announced a strategy to replace natural gas in British homes with hydrogen, to meet a goal of 50 gigawatts of hydrogen production by 2030.

But the plan has been criticised due to the fact that much of the hydrogen is produced from fossil fuel energy, so-called 'blue hydrogen', where the carbon produced is 'captured' and disposed of.

Until now, almost all of the hydrogen produced in the UK has been 'blue'.

Some environmentalists oppose blue hydrogen, saying it locks Britain into reliance on fossil fuels.

They criticise the carbon capture and storage technology, which has yet to be rolled out at commercial scale and is needed to contain the emissions from blue hydrogen.

It also only captures 95% of the carbon dioxide released in production.

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Research published last week by American universities Cornell and Stanford said that blue hydrogen could be 20% worse for the environment than using gas in homes and industry because of the carbon dioxide and methane emissions that can escape during production.

Anise Ganbold, of Aurora Energy Research, told New Scientist: 'It's not a surprise the UK is backing both. It's what the UK has been pushing for, and not a surprise given how strong the gas lobby is.

"At the moment, it is cheaper to make hydrogen from blue, but we don't think that will last for long. We think green will be cheaper by the 2030s."

The government said around £900 million of funding will be available to support hydrogen projects in Britain, which it said could create more than 9,000 jobs by 2030.

As part of the strategy, it has launched a consultation on types of support for hydrogen projects that could lower costs, along the lines of its contracts-for-difference (CfD) scheme that incentivises investment in renewable energy by guaranteeing a minimum price for those who produce it.

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The government will also work with industry on the feasibility of mixing 20% hydrogen into the existing gas supply.

It will also consult on the design of a £240 million net zero hydrogen fund to support the commercial development of low-carbon hydrogen plants.

The European Union also has high hopes that hydrogen will help in the meeting of low carbon goals.

Last year, the European Commission, the EU executive, mapped out a strategy to prioritise green hydrogen for use in sectors that are hard to decarbonise, such as steel.

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British multinational chemicals company INEOS, Europe's largest producer of hydrogen, said it saw a hydrogen economy as the country's best chance of meeting carbon reduction targets.

"But the government must start to commit to investment in the development of the UK's hydrogen infrastructure," Tom Crotty, INEOS corporate affairs director, said in a statement on Tuesday. "At the moment, we are massively lagging behind Europe and words are not enough."

Britain produces around 27 terawatt hours (Twh) of hydrogen a year, mostly from fossil fuels.

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