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Hydrogen: the green ‘silver bullet’ or a lot of hype?

In recent years, hydrogen has emerged as a promising source of clean energy

How we save the planet is clear: we need to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees in order to avoid doing irreversible damage.

But exactly what should we do to reduce damaging greenhouse gas emissions? In recent years, hydrogen has emerged as a promising source of clean energy. It has been called ‘freedom fuel’, the ‘Swiss army knife’ of the energy transition, and a ‘silver bullet’ for decarbonisation. That’s because it can be used in heavy-duty industries such as shipping and aviation, and because it can be stored for a long time.

Hydrogen, however, is only as green as the energy source used to produce it. Truly carbon-free hydrogen can only be made with renewable electricity, and right now genuinely green hydrogen makes up only a small fraction of overall hydrogen production. Skeptics point out that it would require huge investment to ensure the hydrogen we use is green. And they warn that a focus on hydrogen could divert attention away from other important elements of the energy transition, including further electrifying our homes, transportation and industry. Is hydrogen really the solution to our environmental problems?

We separated fact from fiction in this discussion with energy experts Barry Carruthers, hydrogen director of ScottishPower; Fiona Harvey, The Guardian’s environment correspondent; and Professor Nigel Brandon, Chair in Sustainable Development in Energy at Imperial College London.


Speakers

Speakers

Professor Nigel Brandon

Chair in Sustainable Development in Energy at Imperial College London and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering


Chair in Sustainable Development in Energy at Imperial College London and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering. His research is focused on electrochemical devices for low carbon energy applications, with a particular focus on fuel cells, electrolysers, and batteries. He is Director of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Hub and Chair of Imperials Sustainable Gas Institute.

Barry Carruthers

Hydrogen director of ScottishPower, a subsidiary of Iberdrola


Hydrogen director of ScottishPower, a subsidiary of Iberdrola. His previous roles include Head of Corporate Innovation, Sustainability and Quality. This followed several years in ScottishPower Renewables where Barry led activities in marine energy and wind innovations across the sector.

Fiona Harvey

Award-winning journalist who has covered the environment since 2004 at Financial Times and The Guardian


Award-winning journalist who has covered the environment since 2004, at the Financial Times and subsequently for The Guardian. She has written extensively on every environmental issue, from air pollution and biodiversity to ocean plastic and climate change. She has twice won the Foreign Press Association award for Environment Story of the Year, the British Environment and Media Awards journalist of the year, and in 2020 she was named in the Woman’s Hour Power List of 30 top UK women, focusing on Our Planet.
Chair

Kamal Ahmed

Journalist, author and former BBC News Editorial Director


Journalist who has been Editorial Director of BBC News and BBC Economics Editor. He has also held senior roles at The Telegraph Group, The Observer and The Guardian. He recently co-founded The News Movement, a start-up dedicated to tackling misinformation. He is the author of The Life and Times of a Very British Man.