There are not many positive things to have come out of the Covid-19 pandemic – indeed the headline losses, both human and financial, are an appalling tragedy.
But as we tiptoe out of lockdown, survey the damage, and embark on plans for the ‘new world’, hydrogen technology may well have benefited by being given another chance at playing a bigger role in our ‘greener’ future.
Its credentials as a source of clean energy – certainly in the transport sector – have been somewhat buried in the ‘rush to EVs’, which has been running at full tilt since the government published its ‘Road to Zero’ transport policy in 2017 (see News Extra, page 10). There has been a constant flow of announcements from vehicle manufacturers launching new electric models, and EV charging equipment companies agreeing installation contracts nationwide with everyone from local authorities, supermarkets and the latest to sign up – McDonald’s.
Anyone with a car park seems well-placed for an installation. However, there are definitely drawbacks as you visualise a future where circa 38 million vehicles have to re-charge themselves from basically a giant extension lead. We’ll need to take it in turns as well, as the National Grid won’t tolerate too many people switching on their chargers at the same time.
But back to hydrogen and the big ‘elephant-in-the-room’ question that has never been answered, is how the government will replace the £34bn or so a year revenue it receives from fuel duty and VAT, when internal combustion engine vehicles are no longer around. The lockdown and consequent loss of fuel sales has certainly given it a taste of the future, having lost around £2.5bn in fuel duty revenue during April and May.
There are also calls on the government from a cross-industry group of companies called ‘Hydrogen Strategy Now’ to put plans in place to unlock significant investment in hydrogen technologies. Four unions have made similar demands; while the EU is already developing its hydrogen plans. The pressure is certainly building!