THE SNP Government has been accused of attempting “to sneak fossil fuels in the back door” after putting forward £100 million of funding to support an ambition for Scotland to “become a world leader in hydrogen production”.

A new five-year hydrogen action plan, published by the Scottish Government, has formally called on UK ministers to “expedite progress” on changes to regulations and legislation in order to “maximise volumes of renewable hydrogen in our energy system as quickly as possible”.

But campaigners have criticised the plan, instead calling for “an urgent transition away from fossil fuels” after raising concerns the development of blue hydrogen will prolong the use of natural gas.

The SNP strategy will focus on supporting regional renewable hydrogen production hubs and renewable hydrogen projects.

The first tranche of investment will be a £10 million hydrogen innovation fund, to be launched next year to drive technological progress and advance innovation and cost reduction within the emerging sector.

The Scottish Government’s energy transition fund is also being expanded to up to £75 million to deliver £15 million of investment in an Aberdeen hydrogen hub which will develop on-the-ground infrastructure to support the growth of a hydrogen transport fleet and the deployment of new applications across the north east. 

As well as Aberdeen, potential regional hydrogen hubs could be set up on Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles – alongside Glasgow, Grangemouth, the Cromarty Firth, Dundee, Fife, Ayrshire and Argyll.

READ MORE: SNP to demand UK Government accelerates hydrogen development

SNP Net Zero and Energy Secretary, Michael Matheson, said: “Hydrogen has an important role to play in our journey to a net zero economy, by supporting the bold, urgent action required to deliver cleaner, greener energy and also by supporting a just transition – creating good, green jobs for our highly-skilled workforce.

“Scotland has the resources, the people and the ambition to become a world leader in hydrogen production and our hydrogen action plan sets out how we will work collaboratively with the energy sector to drive progress over the next five years.”

He added: “Both renewable and low-carbon hydrogen will play an increasingly important role in Scotland’s energy transition.

“Our priorities are to get as much renewable hydrogen into the energy system as quickly as possible while supporting the establishment of low-carbon hydrogen production at scale in the 2020s, linked to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

“The Scottish Government is fully committed to helping the hydrogen sector develop and grow. We are investing £100 million in renewable hydrogen projects over this parliament and, in addition to this, I am pleased to announce the expansion of our energy transition fund to support the development of a Hydrogen hub in Aberdeen and help the region be at the forefront of the energy sector’s net zero transformation.”

Last month, The Herald revealed that SNP ministers will be piling more pressure on the UK to step up the pace for developing the hydrogen sector.

The action plan explicitly states that efforts will be ramped up to “urge the UK Government to expedite progress on amending regulations and legislation” to support hydrogen being blended into the gas grid, as well as to “accelerate decisions on the role of 100 per cent hydrogen in the gas grid and to enable our ambition to maximise volumes of renewable hydrogen in our energy system as quickly as possible”.

It adds: “We will continue to press the UK Government to progress the consultation on enabling and requiring hydrogen-ready boilers.”

The Herald: How green hydrogen is producedHow green hydrogen is produced (Image: SGN)

Green hydrogen, produced by electrolysis which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, is currently expensive and energy-intensive when done at scale – so blue hydrogen, which splits natural gas into hydrogen and carbon, which can then be captured and stored – is set to be a bridge to the zero carbon option in the short-term.

The draft action plan stresses that hydrogen “will be a key part of the next stage of Scotland’s energy transition pathway” – adding that the fuel could be harnessed for heavy vehicles such as lorries, buses, trains and even aviation.

It adds: “Transported through the gas grid, it can help decarbonise our heat demand at home and in our commercial premises.

“Also, for energy-intensive industry, switching to renewable and low-carbon hydrogen is considered one of the few viable options for significant decarbonisation in the next decade.”

The Scottish Government remains committed to generating 5GW of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen by 2030 and 25GW by 2045, when Scotland is due to become net zero.

The five-year plan stressed that “Scotland’s unique selling point” – its natural resources, infrastructure and skilled energy workforce “could enable it to become a low-cost producer of hydrogen in Europe”.

It adds: “Scotland has an abundance of wind, both onshore and offshore, tides, and reliable water resources, with which to support electrolysis.

“We also have a highly technical oil and gas sector which is pivoting towards the deployment of hydrogen technology as part of the energy transition.” 

Over the next five years, the Scottish Government will “focus on the implementation of short-term actions” to support scaling up hydrogen production, developing a domestic market for the fuel, “maximising the benefits” of integrating hydrogen into the energy system, help the growth and transition of the hydrogen supply chain workforce – as well as setting up international markets and partners and building innovation and research.

Environmental activists have called for renewable energy to be used to power homes and transport directly – rather than converted to hydrogen.
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s climate campaigner, Alex Lee, has warned the strategy is “a plan to sneak fossil fuels in the back door through the use of blue hydrogen”.

They added: “The First Minister spoke last week about moving away from oil and gas as quickly as possible, yet this hydrogen action plan sets out how they will support continued gas extraction and production for hydrogen.

“The Scottish Government is marketing blue hydrogen, made from gas, as ‘low-carbon hydrogen’ but studies have shown that this blue hydrogen actually releases more carbon emissions than just burning gas.

“The plan fails to spell out exactly how much fossil or renewable hydrogen the Scottish Government aims to support.

“Oil and gas companies are being financially backed by the Scottish Government to use carbon capture and storage and hydrogen to allow them to keep drilling and exploiting fossil fuels. What we need to see instead is an urgent transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy in a way that’s fair to workers.”

“The plan also states that hydrogen could be used to heat homes and to power transport. However these uses are an inefficient, misdirected and expensive use of renewable electricity, which should be used to directly power electric vehicles and keep homes warm rather than converting electricity to hydrogen power.”