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In focus: Transitioning the UK’s gas networks to hydrogen

In focus: Transitioning the UK’s gas networks to hydrogen

A range of innovation projects are underway in the UK working on how to transition the country’s gas networks from delivering natural gas to hydrogen, so homes and businesses can continue to receive the energy they need safely and securely.

Led by the UK’s five gas network operators – Cadent, National Grid, Northern Gas Networks, SGN and Wales & West Utilities, these projects range from testing blending up to 20% of hydrogen into the existing gas grid to how we will transport 100% renewable hydrogen from offshore wind turbines all the way to people’s living rooms.

A major new blueprint plotting the course to deliver the UK’s hydrogen objectives outlined in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution was unveiled by Energy Networks Association’s Gas Goes Green programme in January.

Britain’s Hydrogen Network Plan sets out the work the five gas network operators will undertake to meet these goals including ensure the gas transmission network is ready by 2023 to blend up to 20% hydrogen and to help the UK meet its hydrogen production target of 1GW by 2025 and 5GW by 2030.

Read more: New blueprint plots the course for UK’s first hydrogen town by 2030

H2 View caught up with Matt Hindle, Head of Gas at Energy Networks Association, to find out more about all the different hydrogen innovation projects running at the moment.

What are the top three things H2 View readers need to know about Britain’s Hydrogen Network Plan?

Matt Hindle (MH): Firstly, it’s all about the people who rely upon us. From ensuring that hydrogen will be delivered to people’s homes in a safe and secure way, to doing the work necessary so we all have as much choice as possible around technologies we use to reduce our carbon emissions, this plan is all about how our world-leading, critical national infrastructure serves you. That’s regardless of who you are, where you live and what company you work for, whether you’re sitting warm in a hydrogen heated home or because you’re a leading energy innovator creating new green jobs and investment.

Second, it will turn the Britain’s hydrogen ambitions into a reality. Even the most ardent of hydrogen advocates was impressed with the scale of the Prime Minister’s ambition when he unveiled his 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution back in November. Yet the good news is, Britain’s innovative gas network companies are ready to turn the government’s plans into a reality, building on the experience we’ve built up so far. Our plan sets out how we’ll do that.

And third, it will create a platform for a world-leading hydrogen economy. With 85% of homes connected to it, we have a world-leading gas network here in Great Britain. The good news is, we’ve already installed enough hydrogen-ready pipes to go around the world one and a half times, delivering investment and jobs in communities across the country. But from making sure we connect hydrogen production sites as quickly as possible to introducing new gas safe training, this Plan will underpin the whole range of economic benefits a hydrogen economy can deliver.

There’s lots of different hydrogen innovation projects going on in the UK at the moment. How are these projects collectively feeding into the UK government’s plans?

MH: The government’s 10 Point Plan and White Paper were a big step forward in recognising the role that hydrogen has to play in reducing the carbon emissions from Britain’s homes. And the innovation projects that gas network companies are running are absolutely key to turning that ambition into reality.

On the hydrogen blending side of the policy, HyDeploy is front and centre of the industry’s efforts to meet that target of starting to blend 20% of hydrogen into the gas grid, from 2023. That project is now moving into the public trial phase of is work, having successfully conducted trials in homes connected to a private gas network at Keele University. We’ve had a positive set of results from the project so far, with the people living in the homes happy with their experience. And the benefits will go beyond that, because by blending hydrogen into the grid we will help kick-start hydrogen production, supporting the government’s 5GW by 2030 target.

Beyond a 20% blend, the H100 project is underway as the first hydrogen heating trial, building a network to trial hydrogen in 300 homes in Fife. That neighbourhood scale trial is the start of a process which will see us build hydrogen trialling up to village scale by the middle of the decade and deliver the first hydrogen town by 2030. These trials and pilots will show how hydrogen can help crack one of the toughest challenges in meeting net zero: decarbonising heating in 29 million homes in less than 29 years.

As we set out in Britain’s Hydrogen Network Plan, our projects will also provide deliver options to decarbonise industry, transport and power generation. Networks are working with the industrial cluster projects, and innovation around blended hydrogen will help develop and enable markets as policy to support hydrogen production develops.

And how are these projects collectively addressing the engineering challenges around safety and security of supply in particular?

MH: Safety is our number one priority and along with security of supply forms two of the four key tenets of Britain’s Hydrogen Network Plan. Innovation projects have been – and continue to be – central to developing the evidence we need for the safe, secure use of blended and 100% hydrogen.

As well as evidence on network assets, provided through projects like H21, the networks are working closely with the BEIS Hy4Heat programme which is funding the development of hydrogen appliances and the associated. With LTS Futures and the FutureGrid project developing evidence on higher pressure systems, we have a comprehensive programme to ensure hydrogen can provide a safe, secure alternative to natural gas.

The UK’s first homes where the appliances are powered entirely by hydrogen were due to be opened to the public in April. Are these now open? What kind of reaction has there been to these houses?

MH: There’s been huge interest in the first hydrogen houses, which are an example of the collaboration between gas networks and the Hy4Heat programme. They’ll be open soon and hopefully visits will be possible (and not just to the gardens!).

Read more: UK’s first homes powered by hydrogen to open in April

Demonstrating the look and feel of hydrogen in Britain’s homes is key, because heating our homes, cooking our food and having warm water to wash are all very basic but fundamental needs. We have to take an approach to reducing the carbon emissions from those things which is easy to understand and relatable, not complex and remote.

The show homes are key to demonstrating how we can reduce our carbon emissions in a way that means we can use our heating, hot water and cooking exactly as we are used to. It can also ensure that the hard work of reducing Britain’s household carbon emissions is the responsibility of our energy companies, rather than the households themselves.

National Grid announced Project Union in March. What does this project mean for the market and the UK’s hydrogen goals? What are the next steps?

MH: Project Union is exciting not just because of the 2,000km of hydrogen-ready pipelines and £1bn of investment it will deliver across the country, but because it represents a major step in developing Britain’s wider hydrogen economy. Its long-term role actually goes beyond the use of hydrogen in industrial sites – it is very much an enabler and a multiplier for a wider hydrogen economy.

Read more: ‘Project Union’ set to create 2,000km hydrogen network

That’s because hydrogen production at industrial clusters is vital to build scale in the hydrogen market. The challenge is then to build from those projects, and to ensure that decarbonised hydrogen is available as widely and quickly as possible. Project Union is all about developing the infrastructure to support that vision.

It’s this approach that is at the heart of Britain’s Hydrogen Network Plan, which we published in January and that all five of Britain’s gas networks have signed up to. Over time, we see the use of hydrogen for other uses, like home heating and transportation, growing out of these clusters, helping reduce carbon emissions in these areas too. So your readers should watch this space!

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