The role of hydrogen and fuel cells in delivering energy security for the UK

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

Authors

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University College London
  • Imperial College London

Abstract

Hydrogen is a fuel that offers zero point-of-use emissions and can be produced from a wide variety of energy input. Fuel Cells are a conversion technology that allows high efficiencies of energy supply. The UK energy security strategies do not yet embrace the potential these technologies offer. This White Paper therefore describes how hydrogen and fuel cells can contribute to energy security.
Our key messages are:
Fuel cells can contribute to UK energy system security, both now and in the future. Fuel cells can uniquely generate electricity at high efficiencies even at very small scales, and are already being increasingly used for emergency back-up power. There are many types; some require high-purity hydrogen, while others can operate on a range of fuels including natural gas, allowing them some degree of flexibility. In the longer term, fuel cell electric vehicles could greatly reduce oil dependence in the transport sector and fuel cell micro-CHP could reduce gas consumption by generating electricity and heat at high overall efficiencies.
Hydrogen can be produced using a broad range of feedstocks and production
processes, including renewable electricity. Price volatility of primary energy sources or supply disruptions can be ameliorated by switching to other energy sources.
Building a diverse portfolio of hydrogen production plants, using a range of feedstocks, would cost little more than building only the cheapest plant.
Adopting hydrogen as an end-use fuel in the long term increases UK energy diversity. Scenario analyses using an energy system model show that the diversity of the UK energy system, including primary energy consumption, electricity generation, heat and transport, would be similar for scenarios with and without hydrogen, and slightly improved compared to today’s situation.
Hydrogen can be safely transported and stockpiled. Hydrogen pipelines are widely-used in industry and well-understood. It would be possible to develop large-scale storage of hydrogen more cheaply than that for electricity. This could supply many of the same markets as electricity and increase diversification compared to a system focused on electrification of heat and transport.
Hydrogen and fuel cells could improve the stability of a low-carbon electricity
system with a high penetration of renewables. Hydrogen could be produced from renewable electricity using electrolysers in a process called power-to-gas. The hydrogen could then be used as a fuel (e.g. in the transport sector), or stored and used to generate electricity at times of high demand. UK energy resource independence could be greatly increased through deploying high levels of renewables supported by hydrogen and fuel cells.
A decentralised system of hydrogen and fuel cells could improve the resilience
of the energy system to threats such as terrorism, production plant and infrastructure failures, and natural disasters. Furthermore, decentralised generation that operates at peak times (such as micro-CHP on winter evenings) would reduce demand peaks needed by centralised generation systems, improving reliability and reducing the need to invest in peak generation plant.
With respect to affordability, the Government’s energy security strategy concentrates on short-term resource price volatility and insufficiently addresses long-term sustainability. The strategy does not provide a comprehensive, long-term outlook for the development of a resilient, low-carbon electricity system at long-term stable costs that also includes costs to the taxpayer not covered by customer pricing. Production and infrastructure investments have long lifetimes and need a reliable and stable framework that will deliver affordable cost to the society as a whole.
The energy security strategy needs to consider the implications of closer
interactions between the power, gas and transport sectors in the future. These
markets will be intimately linked by using hydrogen and fuel cells across the
various transport, power, and heating applications. A future strategy would
ideally take a more holistic view of these markets and of the energy system.
Hydrogen and fuel cells offer many options to improve the diversity, reliability,
resilience and sustainability of the UK energy system in the future. With appropriate support and a clear and reliable policy framework, UK energy security can be improved in the long term by unfolding the great potential that lies in the use of these technologies.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherH2FC SUPERGEN
Commissioning bodyH2FC SUPERGEN Hub
Number of pages182
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017

Publication series

NameH2FC SUPERGEN Hub White Papers
PublisherH2FC SUPERGEN Hub