The Government should set a target for when the first large-scale hydrogen production plants will be connected to Britain’s gas grid, according to a new report that has been commissioned by gas network company Cadent and published by ENA’s Gas Goes Green programme today.
As rumours circulate around Westminster about forthcoming Government announcements on hydrogen, Angie Needle, Director of Strategy at Cadent, explains just why this report’s recommendations are an important part of kick-starting the growth of a world-leading hydrogen economy here in the UK.
So what does this report say?
The report sets out what Britain needs to do to start introducing large quantities of hydrogen into its network of 284,00km of gas pipelines.
That’s important because it’s exactly what we need to do get going with the process of replacing the carbon-emitting natural gas that most of us use at the moment. The report sets out that detail in three areas:
- What Government can and needs to do
- What gas network companies can and need to do
- What hydrogen producers can and need to do
OK, so why does that matter?
We’ve got a world-leading gas network here in the UK, and we’re hugely reliant on it. 85% of homes and businesses use the fossil-fuel ‘natural’ gas it provides for heating, cooking and hot water – often at the times when we need them the most.
But we need to get rid of natual gas to tackle the climate emergency. Household carbon emissions from our heating alone need to drop from almost 3 tonnes a year today to just 138kg by 2050. Blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas grid with existing natural gas could save around 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year, the equivalent of taking 2.5 million cars off the road.
According to the independent Committee on Climate Change, for hydrogen to be an option for reducing emissions early projects need to get off the ground in the 2020s. At the moment, there is no large-scale production of low carbon hydrogen in the UK and blending hydrogen in to the gas grid will help stimulate that by providing a secure demand base
What about safety? Will hydrogen impact on the way people use their cookers, heating and hot water?
We’ve been running a world-leading live-trial of hydrogen blending at Keele University, partnering with Northern Gas Networks and with the approval of the Health & Safety Executive, called HyDeploy. That trial has consisted of the live-use of up to 20% hydrogen blended with natural gas to be used into people’s homes on the Keele University campus, via a private gas network.
The theory that we can blend hydrogen safely with natural gas is well-established. However, this first phase has proven that theory works safely in practice, with no impact on that way people use their gas boilers or cookers. You can read more about it here.
The second phase will follow the same approach used at Keele, but on a public network in the north-east of England. It will use the same technology which has been tested and approved in the first phase, with the same rigorous approach to safety and the same Gas Safe checks for customers’ appliances.
The main difference with this demonstration is that we will be using the hydrogen with a wider variety of customers and appliances that is more representative of the UK as a whole. So, around 670 households and several businesses will be using the hydrogen blend from December 2020, following Health & Safety Executive approval.
So what’s next?
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done behind the scenes to get hydrogen blending and production off the ground. Whilst our technical trials have been progressing, the regulators need to also focus on the non-technical aspects to ensure that networks are ready and able to accept hydrogen as soon as production is available. The report details what is needed in this area such as the commercial regime, and metering arrangements.
At the moment, only 0.1% of the gas in Britain’s network of gas pipelines is allowed to be hydrogen, by law. We think the time is now right to start looking at how we change that law so that a 20% blend is allowed.
Once innovation and safety trials have progressed to the next stage, that will allow gas networks to start blending far larger amounts of hydrogen into the grid – creating the demand for hydrogen that will help get the industry required to produce it off to a flying start. The report sets out the details of how gas networks can work with hydrogen producers to do that.
To do that and to ensure that we’ve got enough hydrogen, we need the Government to play more of a proactive role co-ordinating industry and the various different regulatory organisations. One of the easiest ways it can do that is to set a target date for when the first hydrogen production plant will be connected to the gas grid.
Notes to editor
About Energy Networks Association
Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the industry body representing the companies which operate the electricity wires, gas pipes and energy system in the UK and Ireland.
ENA helps its members meet the challenge of delivering electricity and gas to communities across the UK and Ireland safely, sustainably and reliably.
Its members include every major electricity and gas network operator in the UK and Ireland, independent operators, National Grid ESO which operates the electricity system in Great Britain and National Grid Gas which operates the gas system in Great Britain. Its affiliate membership also includes companies with an interest in energy, including Heathrow Airport and Network Rail.
What are energy network operators?
Energy network operators manage and maintain the wires, pipes and other infrastructure which delivers electricity and gas to your home, business and community. They are private companies which are regulated by Ofgem and employ around 45,000 people in the UK and Ireland. They are represented by their industry body, Energy Networks Association (that's us).