BLOG – North West Hydrogen Alliance: a look at 2020

Professor Joe Howe looks back at 2020 and gives his predictions for 2021.

As I look back on 2020, I see a rollercoaster. It wasn’t a year any of us wanted or planned, but it has highlighted the importance of the green economy and the role hydrogen can play.

Lots of positives came out of the year, such as the Government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, the focus on the North in the Spending Review and the long-anticipated publication of the Energy White Paper. We’re pleased to see recognition of low carbon technologies from Government, and particularly the vital role that hydrogen must play if we are to reach Net Zero.

Here in the North West, projects like HyNet North West, have been powering in 2020. This leading hydrogen and carbon capture project was awarded £13m from Government to fund two world-first hydrogen projects earlier this year and recently Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng described it as an “excellent cluster, doing great work” in parliament.

We were also pleased to see the launch of our partner Net Zero North West which has committed to making the North West the UK’s first low carbon industrial cluster by the end of the decade, with hydrogen playing an important role.

Here at the NWHA, we almost doubled our membership this year, making us the largest industry-funded regional hydrogen body. Our nine new members cover the whole spectrum, from consultancies and engineering services providers to the creators of the world’s first hydrogen-powered train. Our new and existing members will help us drive forward the hydrogen agenda in the North West.

Raising awareness of hydrogen in the region is a key part of our remit, so we have focused a lot on that this year. We hosted two webinars: one about the green recovery, and one about decarbonising industry in the North West. Our most recent report focused on public attitudes to hydrogen, which showed there is still some work to be done to ensure acceptance of new net zero technologies.

Much of this research was done before the COVID-19 pandemic, so there might be some changes in public attitudes now, given the significant improvements in air quality seen during the early stages of the pandemic, especially in urban areas. With hydrogen powered vehicles releasing only water and heat, they can help to improve local air quality Our report on mobility looked at just this, and we were pleased to discuss it with Ministers at BEIS and DfT earlier in the year.

As for next year, we think it’s going to be the year hydrogen really takes off, starting off with the Government’s Hydrogen Strategy in early 2021. This is something we called for in 2020 and highlights how hydrogen has fast become part of the mainstream when it comes to tackling climate change. Our focus now is making sure the Strategy will accelerate hydrogen in the coming years.

We’d like to see a clear policy framework to encourage private funding for hydrogen, as well as maturing of the mechanisms already in place. There are so many opportunities here because the sector is moving so rapidly. The Government is highlighting the need for hydrogen.  It is committing money to, and providing incentives for, the technology, making it a much more attractive proposition for investors.

It is important to remember that we need more than the right money and technology though. We need the people to develop and implement hydrogen. Low carbon skills can’t be forgotten about. We’ll need our students and graduates to learn these skills, and it’s a chance for the current workforce to reskill. This will help to keep the UK in the lead when it comes to hydrogen.

2021 really will be an exciting year for hydrogen, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.