As government deliberates on whether to sanction hydrogen-based heating, Energy Networks Association insists UK hydrogen blending roll-out would be possible from next winterHydrogen fuel could be mixed into Britain's gas grid as soon as next year, Britain's gas grid companies announcing this morning they should be able to replace a up to a 5th of fossil gas in their pipes with the lower carbon fuel from next winter.
The Energy Networks Association announced this morning the UK's five gas network companies, National Grid, Northern Gas Networks, SGN & Wales, and West Utilities - were all on track to be ready to deliver a 20 per cent hydrogen mix to homes and businesses around the country from 2023. The ENA said a 20 per cent hydrogen blend in the gas mix would reduce carbon emissions equivalent to those from 2.5 million cars a year, without any changes required to people's cookers, boilers or heating systems. "Whether it be heating our homes, powering our businesses or generating cleaner electricity, hydrogen will help drive up our energy security, while driving down our carbon emissions - and Britain's gas grid companies are ready to get on with the job of delivering that," said ENA CEO David Smith.
However, the use of hydrogen to decarbonise heating remains highly contentious. Critics have warned the conversion of the gas grid to a hydrogen-fossil fuel mix could ultimately slow the decarbonisation of buildings in the UK, because it would "lock in" fossil gas and the infrastructure required to pump it to homes around the country for the decades to come, while also discouraging investment in zero carbon heating solutions, such as electric heat pumps and district heating. There are also concerns about the cost of such a switch, given pipes would need upgrading and boilers converting to run on higher blends of hydrogen. Moreover, energy experts and the United Nations have argued that heating is one of the lowest valued applications for hydrogen, warning the limited reserves of the low carbon fuel should be reserved for industries that are less amenable to electrification, such as shipping, steelmaking, chemicals production, and long-haul aviation.
But advocates of hydrogen heating maintain that supplies of hydrogen are expected to increase rapidly in the coming years and switching gas networks to run on the zero carbon gas could provide a less disruptive means of decarbonising heating than requiring millions of homes to switch to entirely new technologies for heating and cooking. The government is yet to take a final decision on whether it plans to move ahead with hydrogen in the UK's heating system, confirming in last autumn's Hydrogen Strategy that it will make a final decision in on blending in 2023 "following testing of the safety, technical and economic case".
The ENA has this morning set out how the government could move ahead with blending hydrogen into the gas grid, detailing the various infrastructure changes that need to happen, as well as the legal changes that must be made across government and regulatory bodies. It has also called on the government to double its domestic hydrogen production target from 5GW to 10GW in order to ensure a steady domestic supply of hydrogen that can shield homes and businesses from volatile international gas market changes. "This plan sets out the changes needed to deliver cleaner, more secure energy supplies for all," Smith said. "What is key is that the government does its bit too by lifting its target for homegrown hydrogen production this decade. Doing that today will help gas grid companies deliver for tomorrow."
Andy Prendergast, national secretary of the GMB trade union, backed the ENA's call for supplies of domestic hydrogen to be ramped up, noting that the sector would create new jobs as it scaled. "A successful domestic hydrogen industry would help secure the nation's energy supplies, cut carbon emissions, and create thousands of good jobs," he said. "As the UK renewables sector continues to send valuable fabrication and manufacturing work overseas, hydrogen production offers a brighter future where green jobs finally start delivering for workers here at home." (January 14, 2022)
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