Today’s blog is by Serene Esuruoso who is a consultant on future energy systems. Prior to this, Serene served as Secretary for the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association. During this time, she supported members in understanding and enhancing the prospects for hydrogen and fuel cells and played a key role in driving the acceleration and commercialisation of these clean energy solutions. Her expertise in this field has enabled her to deliver in-depth reports on European energy and hydrogen policy for international clients. As ever, with our blogs, Serene’s views are not necessarily those of NAEE.
Although the technology has been around for years, hydrogen seems to be the word on everyone’s lips at the moment. The passing of the historic Net Zero legislation in the UK has shone a spotlight on this nascent energy vector. The Japanese, Chilean and EU governments have since passed similar legislation, and in October 2020, even China – which is responsible for more emissions than the US and EU combined – announced plans to reach net zero by 2060. All of this shows a global shift and indicates a real desire for decarbonisation. However, this presents a number of challenges. The heat, heavy transport, and industrial sectors are notoriously difficult to decarbonise. Electrification isn’t always feasible, and the emissions generated by these sectors are too high to rely on carbon offsetting alone. Enter hydrogen.
Hydrogen is an energy vector that can link up the energy system, addressing those problems and more. Through electrolysers connected to wind turbines and solar panels, it’s possible for renewable energy to produce hydrogen from water. The hydrogen can be used as fuel for industrial processes and transport, and heat for buildings. Water vapour is the only emission. Excess renewable energy in summer can also be converted to hydrogen and stored for use in cold winter months. Hydrogen can even be used in gas turbines to provide power. Hence, hydrogen can increase the amount of renewable energy powering the country.
Despite all this, most people don’t know much about hydrogen or how it could become a part of their lives. To reach our climate goals, that has to change – and the best way to do that is through the education system. I remember learning about how hydrogen is the oldest and most abundant element, making up around three quarters of the universe. In addition to this, I should have been taught about all the ways it can be used, but I wasn’t.
A common misconception is that hydrogen is highly dangerous. However, whilst hydrogen can be explosive when mixed with the right proportion of air or oxygen, there are rigorous safety measures it must meet. Fuels we feel comfortable with such as natural gas, petrol and diesel aren’t necessarily safer than hydrogen. Although events such as Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez spill have happened and there are concerns about the impact of wind turbines on birds, the lesson to be learnt is around human error and environmental preservation rather than necessarily the dangers of the energy source. These are risks to be evaluated and managed, not a reason for avoiding these energy solutions.
Through this, the next generation should feel familiar with hydrogen in the same way as fossil fuels or other renewables. They will be equipped to step into hydrogen-specific jobs, or those in the wider sustainable economy we’re building. Integrating hydrogen into society will facilitate a smooth transition to net zero, supporting our ability to limit global warming in line with the Paris Agreement. Hydrogen offers us hope to reach our goals and education allows us to make those goals a reality.
Serene can be contacted at: email@example.com