The UK has another advantage. Hydrogen is expensive to store. The cheapest option is to use salt caverns and this island is peppered with sites. Teesside already has three caverns in use. “We have natural geological deposits of salt down the East coast of England and in Cheshire, enough to store massive amounts,” said Prof Hazeldine.
Almost no country is better placed to seize the initiative on clean hydrogen yet the Government has so far been tentative. It is spending £70 million on a clutch of hydrogen schemes, including Europe’s first big hydrogen plants to heat homes. But this is small beer compared to Japan or China, where Wuhan has been designated as the first ‘hydrogen city’ by 2025. The UK plans have been upstaged by Brussels.
There was nothing in the Chancellor’s Summer Statement, heavy on outdated distractions such as a stamp duty holiday, and too light on the fundamental task of economic generation. “It was a wasted opportunity. We need to start making things again,” said Prof Hazeldine.
Let us hope that the big hydrogen plan is yet to come. The civil service is on board. “There are whole teams working on this in England and Scotland, and they are extremely enthusiastic,” he said.
For the world as a whole, the speed of the hydrogen switch depends on the shape of a global carbon price. BNEF says green hydrogen would compete at a price/tax per tonne of: $32 for dispatchable power, $50 for steel, $62 for cement, and $78 for chemicals.
In my view, a carbon tax and dividend scheme is coming in the US, probably along the lines of HR 763, a bill in Congress with Left-Right support. It overcomes the gilets jaunes problem of social rejection by rotating the money back into people’s pockets. The higher the price, the bigger the cheque
We are moving into a post-Trump world where the US and Europe will both be pursuing ‘green deals’ with a carbon border adjustment tax to fight free riders. Once that happens, China will be forced to follow suit.
jThere are too many variables and moving parts to know when clean hydrogen will catch fire – so to speak – but it is coming much sooner than almost anybody could have imagined just two years ago.
We have within our grasp the final clinching tool for decarbonisation. We can contemplate a net-zero world without having to give up our luxurious lifestyles. Celebrate.