The UK government looks set to delay the publication of its much-anticipated Hydrogen Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), told MPs this morning.
The milestone report – which is due to outline the government's goals for a hydrogen economy and how it can decarbonise industry, energy, and transport – was expected to be published before Parliament's summer recess to give MPs a chance to scrutinise its findings.
But speaking today during the final oral evidence session of the Science and Technology Committee looking at the role hydrogen could play in achieving Net Zero, Kwarteng admitted that "it may not be possible to publish the strategy, ahead of the recess tomorrow [July 22]."
Acknowledging that the energy sector and investors are waiting to hear what the government says so that they can make long-term plans, Kwarteng said that BEIS would "try and get it out as soon as possible."
With the report delayed, it means that those involved in the energy sector will no doubt be studying Kwarteng's words closely to see if they provide any hint to future policy.
While he spoke about the importance of hydrogen, he also struck a note of caution that it was not the "panacea" some believe.
"As far as I'm concerned, I think hydrogen is a big factor... in our drive to Net Zero," he said.
- UK urged to choo-choo-choose hydrogen-powered trains in pursuit of carbon-neutral economic growth
- UK gets glowing salute from Bezos-backed General Fusion: Nuclear energy company to build plant in Oxfordshire
- Honda links arms with JAXA to prepare humans for life in outer space with 'circulative renewable energy system'
- Titanium carbide nanotech approach hints at hydrogen storage breakthrough
"But between those who think it is essentially a panacea that will solve everything, and those for whom it is overhyped, I steer a middle ground.
"I tend to think that in 2021, it would be a foolhardy minister or thinker who could tell you exactly what the energy mix will be in 2050."
The government, he went on to say, needs to keep an "open mind" about different technologies and how they can help the country achieve Net Zero. He was asked whether it was better for government to throw its support behind certain technologies since this would, if nothing else, bring some certainty to the market and investors.
Kwarteng opted for a more "nuanced" and measured approach, adding that picking a winner at this stage from a list of competing technologies was not easy.
"You will remember 20 or 30 years ago, it was the view that diesel was going to be the great answer to pollution, and people were actively encouraged to take up diesel cars," he said.
"But of course, 20 years on, that was a mistake. So I think there needs to be a little bit more humility and a little bit of a broader approach in terms of technologies."
Today's committee hearing comes as the UK government develops a strategy for hydrogen use with the aim of pressing ahead with largescale hydrogen trials.
Only last month, the Railway Industry Association (RIA) – which can trace its roots back more than 140 years to when its members were busy building steam locos – called on the government to support pilot projects to test the viability of hydrogen not only as a clean source of fuel but as a way to boost economic growth.
The delay is yet more unwelcome news for the UK's hydrogen industry as the country continues its slide against more forward-thinking nations. Celia Greaves, CEO of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association UKHFCA), told us: “Ongoing delays to the publication of the Hydrogen Strategy are a source of frustration and anxiety for both the hydrogen sector and the investor community. As other countries ramp up their hydrogen activities, the UK is at risk of being left behind. missing out on a major global opportunity and having to import technology to deliver net zero. We can only hope that the Strategy is published very soon, and that, when it does come out, it will allow us to move forward quickly and at scale.” ®