Following the announcement of the UK government’s ten point plan to achieve its now legally binding Net Zero Carbon Emissions targets by 2050, the renewable energy sector has found itself thrust into the spotlight and facing increasing scrutiny from the media. Here we analyse some of the communications opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for businesses operating in emerging renewable sources.
Indicative of its critical importance to reaching Net Zero, the first point addressed by Boris Johnson’s Green Industrial Revolution is advancing the UK’s offshore wind potential. With lofty ambitions to establish the UK as the ‘Saudi Arabia of wind power’ the Prime Minister has levelled up the UK’s target on energy produced using wind from 30 to 40GW by 2030.
There are a number of projects in the pipeline that are supporting the acceleration of this transition such as SSE and Equinor’s Dogger Bank as well as Orsted’s Hornsea project, the third phase of which has now received government approval. The potential of these projects cannot be understated, with the capacity to power more than 6 and 4.3 million homes respectively.
One concern that has been raised by commentators in the media is regarding the manufacturing of the technology that will power these farms. While the end-result of these developments is more clean energy in British homes, much of this technology itself will be produced and maintained internationally. This has led to several criticisms regarding the tangible economic benefit these projects can deliver to the UK economy and the potential jobs that could be created if these technologies and manufacturing capabilities were in the UK. For many of the international corporations delivering these projects their commitment to the UK must ring true in all of their external communications in order to address these concerns. For innovators based in the UK, there could be a significant opportunity to champion homegrown innovation in the post-Brexit landscape.
Another ground-breaking technology with immense potential to accelerate the decarbonisation of the UK economy is hydrogen power. Having taken somewhat of a back seat in recent years compared to discussions around the possible benefits of wind, nuclear and solar power, hydrogen is now emerging as one of the technologies that may hold the key to minimising the impact of some of the world’s most polluting industries such as heating, transport and manufacturing.
There are several concerns that have been voiced in the media about the potential downsides of betting big on Hydrogen, notably its safety, scepticism around business agendas and finally, the potential environmental downsides of its production.
While its natural ubiquity is one of its key strengths, hydrogen is also an incredibly volatile element. Given that one of its potential applications is in domestic heating, the businesses and industry bodies involved in researching the validity of this application should start communicating with the public to reassure and educate them about the safety of a technology that consumers currently know very little about. Several trials are currently underway across the country and their success will be a key milestone on the road towards widespread hydrogen adoption in the UK. This year sees the launch of the trial at Winlaton which will be the first incorporating hydrogen in to the public grid for domestic supply. Clear, accessible communication about hydrogen’s practical application and potential is vital in re-educating the public at large, and ultimately winning their support.
Secondly, there is a degree of scepticism from commentators regarding precisely why businesses are advocating for hydrogen. In heavy industry, employing hydrogen as an alternative fuel source is facing little resistance as it is one of the few elements that could facilitate the high heat sectors such as steel and chemicals producers require. However, this isn’t the case when it comes to its potential application on a domestic level. Natural gas powers the majority of boilers around the UK and the existing infrastructure that supplies this network is well established. Whilst hydrogen would undoubtedly support the decarbonisation of an industry that contributes to nearly a fifth of UK carbon emissions there is a degree of suspicion that the motivation for energy companies is more economic than environmentally driven. Using hydrogen as an alternative fuel source would enable them to leverage their existing infrastructure and avoid any significant investment in new systems. This is not a critical issue in and as of itself but businesses must tread carefully around this topic lest they fall foul of accusations of greenwashing, rather than providing transparency on the potential fiscal benefit.
It is essential that the energy companies at the heart of this debate must consider how they can communicate with cynical stakeholders, including those within government in order to support the widely mooted mandate for hydrogen-only boilers within the next decade.
The third challenge for businesses in the hydrogen power sector is also a significant opportunity. The benefits of hydrogen as an alternative fuel source are obvious, the downside of the element is that its production typically also generates a significant proportion of harmful carbon dioxide, and this environmental impact needs to be addressed.
There are two forms of hydrogen available for employment as a fuel source, what is known as ‘blue hydrogen’ as opposed to the alternative ‘green hydrogen’. The former of the two relates to hydrogen produced using fossil fuel sources, where carbon emissions are captured and stored whereas ‘green hydrogen’ utilises non-fossil sources such as water.
To successfully utilise clean hydrogen without the unwanted impact of excess carbon emissions, government and businesses are investigating technologies such as electrolysis as well as carbon capture and storage that can limit the impact of production of both blue and green hydrogen.
Businesses that have made strides with these technologies can and must place themselves at the forefront of the conversation around decarbonisation, validate their importance and reassure stakeholders regarding the safety and validity of hydrogen’s application on both a domestic and industrial level.
The sheer volume of new projects supporting the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution is staggering and there is some truly innovative work progressing right across the country. Over the next two to five years, the technology providers and bodies involved can and should start to turn this interest in ‘green hydrogen’ trials into widespread understanding, and ultimately demand from emissions-heavy sectors. The hard work starts here.
If you would like to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for your business in the media, get in touch with our award-winning team today.