Coming out of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reaffirmed the UK’s bold commitment to slashing greenhouse emissions: net zero by 2050. Towards this goal, the Government is investing record sums of money on green technologies, by supporting British research and development (R&D) programmes, as well as the private sector. Only last month, Mr Johson struck a partnership with tech mogul Bill Gates to jointly finance a £400million deal to support the development of cutting-edge green tech over a 10-year period.
That very same day, the Government announced it had earmarked nearly £10billion in foreign investment to help ease the UK’s transition to a net zero economy, with a focus on offshore wind and carbon capture and storage.
The news has prompted the Prime Minister to claim the UK could become the “Qatar” of green energy.
More recently, Mr Johnson said the UK will tackle the aviation industry’s planet-warming emissions and promised to deliver “guilt-free aviation” together with Mr Gates.
But there is one area in particular that many experts believe could be the UK’s best asset in the fight against climate change: the hydrogen energy sector.
Hydrogen has been hailed as a promising alternative to the burning of fossil fuels, as hydrogen cells do not produce any greenhouse gases – their only waste product is water vapour.
According to Brian O’Callaghan, chief of the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project (OUERP), hydrogen energy might just be the UK’s ticket to a booming, eco-friendly economy.
The expert told Express.co.uk there is an opportunity here for the UK to emerge as a world leader in the field.
Scotland has already taken steps towards enacting a five-year plan for hydrogen with the aim of dominating the rapidly-growing industry.
According to plans unveiled earlier this week, Scotland wants to see almost a sixth of all energy produced by hydrogen by 2030.
Ministers in London will now need to accelerate their plans to secure Britain’s green future if they do not want to get left behind in the dust.
Mr O’Callaghan said: “I think there are several opportunities where early action can secure long-term green competitive advantages.
“The UK, for example, maybe should become a leader in hydrogen technologies.
“Out of this we can develop technology expertise, internal capabilities, and we could become a future centre for the future energy network of the world.
“In that, our exports will go up in our technologies and services related to hydrogen.”
The Government has already laid down plans for a thriving hydrogen sector by 2030.
According to documents published earlier this summer, the UK is set to deliver 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity before the decade is out.
In his foreword to the Government’s UK Hydrogen Strategy, Secretary of State for Business and Energy, Kwasi Kwarteng, said the 5Gw target will match the amount of gas consumed by more than three million households a year.
He added: “The Hydrogen Strategy builds on our national strengths. UK companies are already at the forefront of global hydrogen technology development.
“Our geology, infrastructure and technical know-how make us ideally positioned to be a global leader in hydrogen.”
And Mr Kwarteng is right – companies all across the UK have already been bitten by the hydrogen energy bug.
The British-American company ZeroAvia has set this week a timeframe for its first commercial flights to Europe using its hydrogen-powered aircraft.
The Government has also announced plans to trial hydrogen-powered HGVs in a major push to slash the automotive industry’s carbon emissions.
Construction equipment manufacturer JCB has also announced the details of a landmark deal to import green hydrogen from Australia, in a move that will establish the company as one of the nation’s biggest distributors of the green fuel.
However, even if the UK turns out not to be “the best country” for a hydrogen revolution, Mr O’Callaghan thinks the energy market is still in a very strong position to brave the green future.
He said: “I think that the UK does have advantages in the energy efficiency space.
“There have been nascent industries developing here for a while that aren’t in the US, for example.”