The UK Hydrogen Strategy provides a welcome route map for the sector but there’s still much more work to be done
August was a big month for the hydrogen industry with the long-awaited publication of the UK ‘s first ever Hydrogen Strategy.
The strategy showed how far the industry has come in convincing policymakers about the potential benefits of hydrogen within a very short time. It set out a clear direction of travel, with policy commitments set to unlock over £4 billion in investment and create thousands of jobs by the end of the decade. The government will support multiple technologies by taking a twin track approach to ‘green’ hydrogen, produced by using electrolysers powered with renewable energy, and ‘blue’ hydrogen production, enabled by carbon capture processes. The strategy contained funding options for hydrogen projects across the supply chain, including a £240 million Net Zero Hydrogen Fund, and a “preferred Hydrogen Business Model” will be designed to overcome the cost gap between low- carbon hydrogen and fossil fuels.
Still, the industry’s journey is far from over. Before the policy framework is finalised, there will be formal consultations on the preferred Hydrogen Business Model and the Net Zero Hydrogen Fund, as well as a ‘UK Low Carbon Hydrogen Standard’ and a hydrogen production strategy. A decision on using hydrogen for home heating has been put off until 2026. And the 5GW target may yet be increased. These provide the industry with a big opportunity to shape government policies on hydrogen. Government and the industry will need to work together to deliver the policies needed to support innovation, boost investment, and scale up low-carbon hydrogen in the 2020s.
The Hydrogen Strategy highlighted another, parallel challenge: the need for both the industry and government to look beyond Whitehall to achieve these goals. Local authorities will be important in ensuring adoption of hydrogen at the local level. The supply chain will need to scale up and reskill the hydrogen sector. And of course, public buy-in will ultimately be needed. The sector is increasingly aware of these imperatives and the government’s strategy contained a welcome commitment to work with industry, trade unions, the devolved administrations, local authorities, and enterprise agencies to support sustained and quality jobs.
Both industry and government seem to have their work cut out. Research over recent years has found that public knowledge of hydrogen and hydrogen blending is low. Likewise, many local authorities appear to have a limited appreciation of hydrogen, its potential and applications.
There is, however, a growing level of interest and debate around the role of hydrogen in delivering net zero and creating a prosperous economy. For instance, in the ten days following the launch of the Hydrogen Strategy, it was the subject of more than 440 articles in leading UK publications, a jump of more than 350 per cent on the previous ten-day period. While most of these articles appeared on 17 August, the day of the strategy’s publication, there was a steady drumbeat of coverage and commentary afterwards, with around 20 articles about the strategy appearing per day.
With key policies still to be finalised, important audiences yet to be informed and convinced about hydrogen’s potential, and a media that is becoming more interested, the hydrogen industry has big challenges ahead – and a great deal to play for.
On Tuesday 7 September, the Hydrogen Taskforce, a coalition of the industry’s largest organisations, will launch a major campaign to show how hydrogen can play a leading role in accelerating the UK’s journey towards net zero. The Building a Hydrogen Society campaign will showcase the many benefits for local communities of applying hydrogen in running public transport, powering our industries.
By Neil Stockley, Director of the Energy team. Madano advises clients across the Energy sector, if you’re interested in learning more, please contact: MadanoEnergyPractice@madano.com
In conjunction with colleagues from sister consultancy AXON, employees from Madano serve on the CSR Elective, a body formed to guide and promote responsible social programmes and activity on behalf of the two organisations.
In March and April, the CSR Elective hosted a Sustainability Series from Earth Hour (26 March) to Earth Day (22 April) with the aim of learning and sharing ideas that can inspire action. The series kicked off with four weekly TedTalk sessions, one of which has inspired our Healthcare practice to investigate pro-bono ways of supporting organisations combatting the health implications of climate change.
The series culminated with a live Q&A event on Earth Day exploring the link between climate and social justice with Ayo Sokale: chartered civil engineer, project manager and BIM lead for the Environment Agency’s Collaborative Delivery Framework Eastern Hub (Thames Valley, East Anglia and Herts and North London), Labour and Cooperative Councillor and public speaker. Below are some of the highlights of the conversation we had with Ayo.
Q: Can you remember the moment when you realised how connected the issues of climate, economic and social justice are?
A: I would say the first time I could articulate how connected they were was a lot later in my journey. I think I must have been about 25. But the point where I actually noticed it, but couldn’t put into words, was when I was nine and I chose to be an engineer. I chose that to be my tool to make the world a better place.
And that’s because I was growing up in a developing country and witnessed an engineering project that brought infrastructure. But it didn’t just bring economic benefit to the town. It brought healthy changes, such as children who had suffered with bloated stomachs from disease no longer had those diseases because they had access to clean water and better infrastructure. I saw economic infrastructure bring social change and create community cohesion.
Fundamentally, on a subconscious level, I’d actually noticed it at the age of nine, but it was a lot later, when I’d done the studying and the reading on the journey to becoming a chartered engineer, that I could actually put it into words and say: “Oh, these are the three pillars. It’s a social thing. It’s an economic thing. It’s an environmental thing.” So, I knew at nine, but I knew properly at 25.
Q: Which organisations would you say are doing good work at this intersection between sustainability and social justice? For people who want to get involved, where would you recommend they start?
A: The first practical thing I would recommend is actually Surfers Against Sewage. They have this amazing toolkit for tackling single-use plastic in your community, which I think was created with the end user in mind. We follow their toolkit very closely and started off doing litter picks, bringing the community together to understand that there’s this pressing issue of environmental degradation.
We did a mass unwrap with Waitrose, and they do amazing work. They worked in partnership with us and that raised awareness in the community about this issue. And then we started encouraging people to use the free recycling programmes offered by TerraCycle, and that was led by another local community group. We started connecting the dots, working with refill organisations.
So I would start with the toolkit that’s online. You can download it and get started today! It will allow you to put in place a really well-defined infrastructure through which to take positive steps, but it will also get you connected with other social groups doing the same work in your community, which will then allow you to create social and environmental impact, and economic benefits, for your community.
Friends of the Earth are amazing too. They actually inspired me to take action to address some of these causes. A member of Friends of the Earth on Twitter introduced me to the organisation and then I started looking into them myself. That led to my writing a motion about ways of increasing wild flower numbers and bees in a certain town and working with the lead counsellor. So thank you Friends of the Earth for sparking that innovation. Everyone should check them out. They are an amazing resource and they just know so much.
Q: What steps can communications consultancies like us take to support local communities who are suffering negative environmental impacts such as air pollution?
A: As a communications company you have a complete skillset that could be useful. For example, communities in areas affected by high air pollution are often deemed hard-to-reach, but actually they just need more engagement that’s specific to them. So you could run campaigns aimed at those communities to raise awareness of the health risks they’re suffering, but also explain how they can play a role in tackling that risk.
For example, they could sign a petition to ask their local council to reconsider the local plan and see what they can do to change it. I think a lot of communities are unaware of the risks they face and just need the right communication tools. Maybe Madano, with the communication skills, knowledge and experience you have, could do some of that work, particularly through your CSR Elective.
Q: How can we talk to clients and get them to buy into this? How can we speak their language and make them understand that this is beneficial for everyone?
A: Align the conversation with the clients’ KPIs. As a consultancy, you have to understand your clients’ needs almost as well as they do, so you know the desired outcome and how they’re measuring their own performance. So align this environmental justice work with their KPIs and explain it in terms of CSR or their net-zero targets, and then you can influence them through that self-benefit. Make it matter to them.
Q: As a civil engineer, what more should your industry be doing to play its part in combatting climate change?
A: Starting with a positive example, the Thames Tideway in London has not just delivered a project, but removed plastic from the river and its banks, and transported material using barges instead of HGVs. But as an industry that has a huge potential to create assets and increase energy expenditure, the questions we need to ask ourselves are: “Do we need this infrastructure in future? Should we retrofit our infrastructure? Should we focus on asset management and get away from creating new capital assets? If we are creating capital assets, what standards should they meet? Not just BREEAM Excellent, but how can we go beyond that?”
So we’re facing the challenge of whether we should be building new assets and, when we consider that, we really have to think about the problems we’re trying to solve. Because that’s what we do as engineers: we solve the problems of the day.
Inspired by Ayo’s rallying cry, members of the CSR Elective have already joined Friends of the Earth, and stopped eating meat. If you’re interested in working with organisations who are driving positive environmental change to shape the future, then check out Madano’s latest vacancies: http://madano.com/careers/
By Jessica Garner, Senior Account Executive in Madano’s Healthcare practice
In the run up to Super Thursday’s elections, British politics lost an icon, although his death went relatively unnoticed.
Born in 1992, Mondeo Man was read his last rites in March, when manufacturer Ford announced that production of the Ford Mondeo would come to an end in early 2022.
Throughout the 90s, the Mondeo was well-loved as an aspirational car for the suburbs. The Mondeo was equally comfortable running to the supermarket at the weekend as it was driving up and down the country as a company car, potentially with Chris Evans presenting Radio 1 and playing the Spice Girls on the top-of-the-line in-car stereo system with CD player.
So much so that Mondeo Man became the catch-all descriptor for the voters who backed Blair’s Labour Party to a landslide victory in 1997: suburban voters with mortgages and a nice-looking car who wanted better public services like healthcare and education but didn’t want economic surprises.
Nothing lasts forever though, and last year just 2,400 Ford Mondeos were sold in the UK. Tellingly, Ford’s former Mondeo manufacturing plant in Valencia, Spain, will now be assembling a new range of battery and hybrid electric vehicles (EVs) instead.
So, if Mondeo Man is gone, who’s replacing him? It’s EV Evan and Evaline, who’ll be buying those new EVs.
At the same time Mondeo Man passed, polling by YouGov found that the current crop of aspirational adults – aged 25-49 – were generally very supportive of net-zero measures like phasing out petrol and diesel cars by 2030, but would be sensitive about the costs.
Meanwhile, the Department for Transport’s most recent public attitudes surveys found that while the public are well aware of EVs and increasingly keen on buying them, they’re worried about the fundamental infrastructure and trade-offs in ownership they’ll be relying on. By 2027, it’s going to be cheaper to buy an EV than it is a regular gas guzzler.
Voters will expect to be able to afford to buy an EV and, like the Mondeo of old, they’ll need to trust it to take the kids to an afterschool club and the occasional long-distance work trip. They’ll notice if the rollout of charging points is slow, or if their locations make no sense, or if the digital tech providing access to them is cumbersome.
It doesn’t stop there though – EVs are simply the crest of the wave.
Those voters will favour career opportunities with employers that have a plan to adapt and grow in a net-zero world. And they’ll notice if the value of their home suffers due to problems with funding and delivering improvements.
The result is that net zero and the way cleantech fits into your life will increasingly become an everyday political issue.
Reflecting this reality certainly did the Conservatives no harm in last week’s Super Thursday elections.
Arguably their best result of the night was the re-election of Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, with 73% of the vote. The key to his pitch was an ambitious narrative on levelling up his region with significant public spending pledges focused almost entirely on job-creating net-zero industries like hydrogen, low-carbon manufacturing and wind power. Cleantech became retail politics, and voters lapped it up.
The lesson that will be learned by CCHQ is that it pays to give aspirational voters hope that their region can capitalise on net zero’s changes.
A challenge for any opposition party will be bettering it.
Labour will need to try and persuade voters that they have more, not less, to offer the voters they have lost to the Conservatives ahead of the next general election. The SNP, Liberal Democrats and Greens have all clearly staked out their own distinctive electorates, and those groups will be expecting net-zero progress too.
The pressure on the Prime Minister – and the industries he’s backing – will be to start to tangibly convert the promise made to electorates like Teesside’s into real-world prosperity and, importantly, everyday living.
Like schools and hospitals in the 90s, voters will be unimpressed if the delivery of net-zero public infrastructure struggles to keep up with the pace of change they expect. The politics of net zero and the cleantech powering it has moved from the macro level to the kitchen table. It won’t be the only issue EV Evaline votes on, but it’ll be amongst them.
If she trades in her end-of-life Mondeo for an EV and struggles to find a charging point, or needs to juggle 13 different billing apps to use it, it will shape her perceptions of political competence.
So, rest in peace Mondeo Man, who dominated the 90s and 00s. The 2020s will belong to EV Evan and Evaline.
By Ben Gascoyne, Account Director in Madano’s Technology practice
If you’d like to speak to Ben or another member of the team about the implications of net zero for future transportation or British politics in general, please get in touch.
Shifting our way of life and economy away from a dependence on fossil fuels and towards a sustainable path that will enable us to achieve net zero by 2050 is currently the most important challenge we face. We’re all aware of that, but sometimes we need a communications masterclass to make us appreciate the true nature of the problem.
Luckily, Sir David Attenborough has provided a shining example with his latest one-off special, A Life on our Planet, which makes for uncomfortable viewing. Available to stream on Netflix, it has a distinct feel of the final encore to his lifetime of works – indeed, he calls this programme his “witness statement” to the world.
It’s a statement that notes the rapid, sickening exploitation and destruction of our planet during his life, and feels almost like an obituary for planet Earth. Attenborough highlights the speed at which the planet’s ecosystems have changed, and the catastrophic consequences of these changes: rising atmospheric carbon dioxide and a fall in the truly ‘wild’ nature left on earth.
Some of the programme’s statistics are stark. Forty per cent of the world’s sea ice has melted in the last 40 years as our systematic overuse of fossil fuels quickens the rate of global warming. Thankfully, the show does not end with an apocalyptic vision for earth’s future, but one of hope and opportunity.
Transitioning to net zero – an investment opportunity
A recent Financial Times article began with the same sentiment: “Saving the planet from catastrophic climate change is humanity’s biggest challenge. It may also represent the most spectacular investment opportunity of our lifetimes.”
The article states that the transition to a green economy has presented a number of opportunities for venture capital investors to become involved in climate tech. A report from PwC confirms this, noting that funding for climate tech companies has outstripped other sectors, including artificial intelligence, increasing from $418 million in 2013 to $16.1 billion in 2019. The opportunity for venture capital investors to make money while also saving the planet has an undeniable pull, but despite this dramatic increase in investment, the FT states that “climate tech still only accounts for about 6 per cent of VC’s investment portfolios today,” a figure that needs to increase sooner rather than later.
In an effort to accelerate sustainable investment, the world’s largest fund manager, BlackRock, announced last year that it would remove from its actively managed portfolios any company receiving more than a quarter of its revenue from thermal coal. Larry Fink, the firm’s CEO, stated in a letter to clients: “The commitments we are making today reflect our conviction that all investors – and particularly the millions of our clients who are saving for long-term goals like retirement – must seriously consider sustainability in their investments.”
A few months later, the FT reported that shareholder support for climate change resolutions at annual meetings had increased from 16 per cent in 2019 to 23 per cent. The companies who “suffered big shareholder revolts over climate change” in 2020 included US bank JPMorgan, Australian energy companies Woodside Petroleum and Santos, mining group Rio Tinto, shipping company JB Hunt Transport Services and energy group Ovintiv.
Transitioning to net zero – a communications challenge
So, what does this all mean for communications? Well, in the same way that the transition to a low-carbon economy represents the biggest investment opportunity of our lifetime, it is also, arguably, the greatest communications opportunity for a generation. As a post on Attenborough’s Instagram page explains: “Saving our planet is now a communications challenge.”
The UK Government has legislated to transition to net zero by 2050, and a number of other countries have echoed this decision with similar signals of intent. Added to that, major corporations across the globe, including oil and gas producer BP and US tech giant Microsoft, have also made net-zero pledges.
But these examples are still in the minority. What’s needed now is for every organisation to take meaningful action to reduce and eliminate its carbon footprint on the road to net zero, while ensuring its communications highlight that action to key stakeholders in a transparent and targeted way.
By Lewis Popplewell, Account Executive in Madano’s Energy practice.
This blog post is the first in a three-part series discussing the communications challenges and opportunities provided by the net-zero transition. Forthcoming posts will examine the importance of communications in the context of reputation management, as well as potential ways to engage with government, the media and other stakeholders to positively influence the transition.