Chair: Ms Blake has a question to ask before we go into the main session.

Q1               Olivia Blake: My question is to Mr Pocklington. Welcome to the witnesses this morning. I would like to ask whether Mr Pocklington is able to shed any light on where things are heading with the hydrogen levy. The Energy Bill is currently passing through Committee stage; I am a member of that Committee, to be clear. It has been a bit confused with some statements that have been made by the Secretary of State this week. Would you be able to enlighten us on where the hydrogen levy is going?

Jeremy Pocklington: You are factually correct in terms of the Energy Bill going through Committee. Our Ministers have said they are aware that comments have been made and there is a debate happening around the hydrogen levy. They have said they are listening to concerns that have been raised and considering what is the right approach to take. That is the process that is under way. This is a normal part of the consultative approach to legislation that happens as it passes through Parliament.

Q2               Peter Grant: Mr Pocklington, earlier this year the Government invited proposals from energy companies to run a large-scale pilot of hydrogen power for domestic consumers in the hydrogen town pilot. We expected an announcement on the results of that process in March; it has not happened yet. Can you give any indication as to when an announcement is likely to be made?

Jeremy Pocklington: I do not have a specific time to give you on that. We received four applications, I think, in relation to the hydrogen heating pilot. We are considering those applications and will set out our approach as soon as we can. I am aware of the importance. I am very happy to write to the Committee as soon as I have a timescale on that.

Q3               Peter Grant: In the light of the way some of the Secretary of State’s comments have been reported over the last few days, are the Government still fully committed to running this pilot and learning lessons from it?

Jeremy Pocklington: He has been absolutely clear about the importance of running the pilot to understand the role that hydrogen can play in heating. He is also aware that the wider debate around the role of the hydrogen economy is one that continues to evolve. He has made his position clear on that specific question.

Chair: We will look forward to hearing about all that. It is very pertinent to today’s session on how we are going to deliver net zero.

Q4               Anne Marie Morris: Can we turn first to the net zero research and innovation framework? Generally, that has been incredibly well received. We have our seven categories and 31 research areas. At any point was there consideration as to leaving some of those off? Or are there things that you thought about and would have added if you could have done?

I put that in the context that this is an international problem, rather like covid. We cannot do all the research in the UK; we need to do what we can around the world. Clearly, there is expertise in other parts of the world in some of these areas. There will always be a balance between the extent to which we want competitive advantage so are going to put the money into it, and, against that, the reality of a limited resource and what is going on elsewhere. With that background, what would you have excluded and what might you have included in the framework as it is?

Jeremy Pocklington: That is a very good question. We are very cognisant that we are operating in an international environment. That is beneficial to us, but there is also an element of competition that comes from that. The framework is, as you alluded to, a very broad framework, and that reflects the whole-economy transition that we have. That is why we have 115 programmes. It is a big, complex transition affecting many sectors of the economy.

When designing that framework, we looked at where our comparative advantage was as a country. That reflects some of our knowledge and expertise in, for example, the oversight of systems and digitalisation—the sorts of things that the Energy Systems Catapult is doing. It reflects where we think that our industry may have a comparative advantage as well. Floating offshore wind might be an example of that.

We were also very mindful of the international environment and where other countries are going to lead the research and deployment that leads to cost reduction. A lot of the cost reduction in, for example, solar PV actually happens from research elsewhere. Although we can add some value in this country, it will not be the main area of our focus here. It very much is a factor that has guided the work of the Net Zero Innovation Board.