Tom Tugendhat MP: A leaked draft of the EU’s forthcoming Hydrogen Strategy shows where the next energy competition is coming from. After Germany’s announcement last week of €9 billion investment in hydrogen technology, eyes are turning to the UK. This isn’t just a new technology, it’s a chance for the UK to achieve energy independence, or remain reliant for another generation. As Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, looks for investment ready projects to boost growth in coming months and transform our future, he should be looking north east. Along the North Sea coast UK cities are transforming our energy options and our ability to lead. Our dependence on oil is set to end. The G7 have targeted phasing out all fossil fuel use by 2100. In the UK, coal powered power stations will close by 2024, new gas heating installations will be banned from 2025, and petrol, diesel and even hybrid cars will be banned by 2035. As we decarbonise our economy, the decisions we take about our energy supply today will determine the next phase of our energy security. Nowhere is that risk more pronounced that the transport industry. Just as Churchill set the course towards oil, so today, the push towards battery-powered vehicles risks the UK becoming totally reliant on batteries, those that produce them, and, crucially, those that control the critical rare base metals needed to make them. Despite the world-leading contribution of UK companies, such as JLR, and the cutting-edge research they’re doing in this field, and the welcome prospect of a Gigafactory in Wales, at the heart of each battery electric vehicle are resources, components and technology sourced largely from China. China now controls 73 per cent and rising of the world’s lithium cell manufacturing capability, and just one Chinese company has control over nearly half the global production of lithium itself. We are fast facing a situation where Beijing’s market share over a component that makes up roughly half the price of every vehicle is so dominant we’re dependent on a country which as today’s change in Hong Kong shows, is not interested in free societies or markets. Berlin’s Gigafactory shows Tesla is boosting battery production on the continent but has a long way to go if it will catch up. Projects like H21 led by the Northern Gas Network are exploring how 3.7 million English homes, as well as businesses, can become emission-free by 2034 through conversion from natural gas to 100 per cent hydrogen. Other pilot projects include the British rolling stock company Porterbrook’s Hydroflex train – the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train, developed in partnership with the University of Birmingham. Ballymena-based Wrightbus is building emission-free hydrogen buses, with a proposition to bring thousands of hydrogen buses to our roads over the next five years.
Times 2nd July 2020 read more »