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Transport: Zero Carbon Target

Volume 811: debated on Tuesday 27 April 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the electrical power requirements needed to enable reliable (1) hydrogen, and (2) battery, availability, in order to meet their zero carbon transport sector target.

My Lords, the recent energy White Paper, published in December, considered the potential future reliance of transport on electricity and clean hydrogen. It also included nearly £500 million of funding that will be made available in the next four years to build an internationally competitive electric vehicle supply chain.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply and the energy White Paper is certainly a contribution. Does it include all the power needed not only to produce batteries but to source the raw materials? The demand for lithium, one of the main contributors, is forecast to go up by 10 times, I think, in five years. Manufacture of hydrogen takes double the amount of electricity than it would it if you just drove a train or anything else directly by electricity. Then there are all the changes to the grid required. Can the Minister confirm that all this is included in the White Paper?

I can confirm that all these things are under consideration at the current time. It is a complex picture and there are many uncertainties as to what we will need our energy for. We are absolutely committed to ensuring a sufficient supply of low-carbon electricity. We need to ensure that the grid can cope and that we make the best use of smart energy solutions that are able to make use of plentiful renewable supply.

According to a widely accepted analysis, the electrification of transport would require a 75% increase in generating capacity. The decarbonisation of the economy will create numerous additional demands. However, the energy White Paper proposes a doubling of the capacity by 2050 in the context of a reduction of a third in overall energy consumption. This would have to be accompanied by the continued deindustrialisation of the economy, a virtual cessation of manufacturing and the immiseration of much of Britain’s working population. How do the Government react to these inescapable conclusions?

I am afraid I have not read the report to which the noble Viscount refers. But it seems obvious that, over time, motors et cetera will become more efficient. It could be therefore that the amount of energy used will decline on a relative basis. The Government are also focused on flexibility. Flexibility is key, which is why we need smart technology that will centre on storage, demand-side responses and interconnectors to make sure we get the power to where it needs to be when it needs to be there.

My Lords, the number of electric vehicle charging points on motorways is already inadequate. To achieve the Government’s targets for increasing EV sales, there must be a massive expansion of the number of motorway charging points, but motorway services are often in rural areas where the electricity grid is already stretched. What work have the Government done so far to ensure that motorway service stations will have the electrical capacity that they will require, and what specifically do they plan to do in the next two years?

I would like to reassure the noble Baroness that, if she is on the strategic road network, she should be no more than 20 miles from an electric vehicle charger. I would also like to reassure her that the Government have this in their sights. Of the £1.3 billion the Government are investing in EV charging points, £950 million is looking at future-proofing electricity capacity on the strategic road network, because we recognise that this will be a key way to recharge both electric vehicles and, in certain circumstances, freight vehicles.

My Lords, I declare an interest in energy, as in the register. Is not the real bottleneck in this whole programme the existing lithium ion batteries and their sheer weight and extensive mined metals content, including cobalt, copper, nickel, manganese and of course refined lithium—not to mention their very heavy carbon emissions in manufacture, large costs and long charge times? Can we be assured that the Government will encourage the new solid-state battery production, which requires far less electricity, as well as using fewer metals and being safer, cheaper, lighter, cleaner and quicker charging? Can we ensure that we secure reliable supply lines from Asia, where these new batteries are now mostly produced?

The Government are of course focusing on our supply lines from Asia, but also on what we can do domestically. Recent experiences have shown us that being overreliant on any particular country is possibly not the wisest idea. The Government are investing £318 million in the Faraday battery challenge. Part of that is the amount of money we are investing in the Faraday Institution, which within two years has become a world leader in electrochemical energy storage research. There are 400 researchers there, looking at batteries with longer range; they are lighter, faster charging, durable, safer and sustainable. Allied to that, we will look at the supply chain for the constituent elements that need to go into those batteries.

My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. In my mind, the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is a good illustration of why a whole-systems approach is needed to tackle net zero. Can the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to address the problem of silos inherent in individual departmental responsibilities—for example, in BEIS and DfT? Does she agree with me that a cross-departmental delivery body sitting below the Cabinet committees is required to properly implement a systems approach to net zero?

It is probably above my pay grade to try to reorganise government from the Dispatch Box, but the noble Lord is absolutely right that numerous government departments have a very strong interest in what we are doing. For example, the Department for Transport will publish its transport decarbonisation plan in the coming weeks. As part of that, we will set out what we will do when it comes to hydrogen technology. Subsequent to that, BEIS will publish the UK hydrogen strategy, which will of course talk about how we can focus on the low-carbon production of hydrogen. We are capable of working together across departments and are doing so well so far, but the noble Lord may be right; something may be set up in future.

My Lords, despite recent progress on transport electrification, heavy goods vehicles remain difficult to electrify due to their weight. The Climate Change Committee has recommended a 2040 ban on diesel heavy vehicles. Will the Government act on this recommendation?

I agree with the noble Lord; heavy goods vehicles will be one of the harder-to-reach elements for us to decarbonise. It could be that hydrogen plays a much bigger role for HGVs. We are about to consult on the date for starting to phase out the sale of diesel HGVs, and recently launched a £20 million trial of zero-emission road freight vehicles that will look at hydrogen and battery electric. It will also look at catenary systems to see whether they might work. All in all, it will advance research and development on all low-carbon fuel sources for HGVs.

My Lords, hydrogen-powered vehicles are better for the environment than those powered by electric, but they cost more to run. How will the Government encourage the use of hydrogen when price is a factor?

Of course, hydrogen vehicles are better for the environment only if the hydrogen is green hydrogen and made from renewable energy in the first place. We do understand that economic incentives may be required to encourage people to look at hydrogen but, at the end of the day, it is not an “either battery electric or hydrogen” situation; we will probably need both in great quantities, and indeed any other low-carbon energy systems that might become available. The Government will think about the financial support they might offer to encourage the take-up of those as they become available.

My Lords, the Government’s investment in the Holyhead hydrogen hub is welcome, as is the hydrogen transport hub on Teesside, but can the Minister confirm that further plans are in development to create additional hydrogen hubs across Wales and the UK? These will help unlock the potential of the hydrogen economy. As so many of our current electricity generation plants will be closed by 2050, will enough new capacity be brought forward to facilitate this?

Unfortunately, I cannot fully answer the noble Lord’s question. Much of our hydrogen strategy will be in the transport decarbonisation plan, followed by the UK hydrogen strategy, so I cannot say now where new hydrogen hubs will be set up. But the Government are very focused on ensuring that we have access to good hydrogen, because it is a suitable, flexible energy source that can be used across transport, heat and power.