2021 must be the year that we rise to the biggest challenge of decarbonisation

2021 must be the year that we rise to the biggest challenge of decarbonisation

When we last marked Britain’s Green Gas Day, it is fair to say that the landscape around hydrogen and biomethane was very different to the one we are faced today.

Over the course of the last year, hydrogen in particular has gone from being the Cinderella-solution of decarbonisation policy to being front and centre of decarbonisation plans and policies across the globe.

With an extensive, world-leading gas network, huge amounts of offshore wind resource and liquid energy markets, there are few other places as well positioned as the UK to lead that race. And where there is a need for hydrogen, there is also a need for biomethane too, working in partnership together to reach all corners of the country.

But as we look forward to what will undoubtedly another exciting twelve months in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow, we must not lose sight of why gases like hydrogen and biomethane are such an exciting prospect.

We all know that the next major frontier in tackling the climate emergency is to reduce the emissions from our homes. The average annual carbon emissions from a UK household currently weigh almost three tonnes. But by 2050, if we’re to reach our net zero emissions target, they need to drop by a 95%, to just 135kg.

What’s more, decarbonising household emissions is arguably the most complex, politically challenging, disruptive and, if not done correctly, expensive part of the decarbonisation puzzle that we have to solve.

To solve that puzzle, we as an industry have to remember that for all the technical debates and the detail we often focus on, the technologies we use to heat our homes and hot water, and cook our food are all about fulfilling some of our most basic human requirements. Whatever your view on what the best means of doing that is, we as an industry have to be sensitive to that reality.

We are not standing still whilst we wait major decisions from the Government on heat in the weeks to come, and that is why this year’s Green Gas Day is particularly exciting. Because if there is one area that green gases like hydrogen and biomethane have such huge potential, it is to give us all the ability to work with people’s needs in reducing their carbon emissions, by using them to replace natural gas and through a zero-carbon gas grid.

Our proposition for creating that grid, delivered through Energy Networks Association’s Gas Goes Green programme, is simple.

First, it will reduce people’s carbon emissions from heating, hot water & cooking, as well as their transportation, in the least disruptive & cheapest way possible. In the first instance, we can do that by blending up to 20% of hydrogen and increasing amounts of biomethane into the gas grid, without having to change people’s boilers or cookers. This simple move could help the UK reduce emissions by 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year, the equivalent of taking 2.5 million cars off the road.

Second, through appliances such as hydrogen-ready boilers, the grid will support the delivery of technologies that are familiar to people, in terms of how and when they use them. With minimal disruption in our homes, it will build on the strengths of our current energy system and ensure 23m homes can access the energy they need in the way they’d like and when they need it the most, in a clean, reliable and safe way.

Third, it will transform the role that our gas networks have to play in our energy system. It will create new demand for clean technologies and green gas, whilst stimulating new green industries, supply chains and jobs for people, in communities across the country. A world-leading hydrogen economy could create 225,000 jobs by 2050 in the UK, but investment is already being delivered now, by replacing old iron mains with new hydrogen-ready plastic pipes. By 2032, this work will have delivered £28bn in jobs and supply-chains in communities across the country.

By this time next year, when we mark Green Gas Day once again, we will hopefully be standing on a brink of another historic climate change agreement at COP26. With our world-leading gas grid and the opportunities that hydrogen and biomethane have to offer, the contribution those gases can make in the fight against climate change is far more than the sum of their parts – it is their potential to turn the existing challenges around decarbonisation that we face, into new opportunities for Britain to lead the world.

About the author

The former CEO of gas distribution network Cadent, Chris Train is spearheading the Gas Goes Green project and is the UK’s first Green Gas Champion.

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