It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas

Article by Mark Horsley

H21: why we need bold thinking for a greener, cleaner, low-cost future

IN 2016 the North of England’s gas distributor, Northern Gas Networks (NGN), presented the evidence from its pioneering H21 Leeds City Gate study. This major piece of work found that the conversion of the UK gas networks to 100% hydrogen is technically feasible and could be done at a realistic cost.

This has the potential to play a significant role in meeting the UK’s 2050 climate change targets, reducing heat emissions by 73% if the whole of the UK converts to hydrogen gas.

The case for a future in which hydrogen is an everyday fuel took a huge leap forward in November 2017 when the NGN-led H21 project was awarded £9m (US$12.5m) of innovation funding from industry regulator Ofgem, in order to evidence the safety case for a hydrogen gas network.

The need for change

Climate change is one of the most significant technical, economic, social and business challenges facing the world today. The UK has committed to reduce carbon emissions by 80% of its 1990 levels by 2050, yet to date there has been little research into the opportunity to decarbonise the gas grid at a scale commensurate with climate change targets. The UK currently relies on 1,500 TWh of energy to heat buildings, fuel transport, and power electric generation. Currently just 5%, or 83 TWh1 of this energy comes from renewable sources.

It is technically possible and economically viable to convert the UK gas network to 100% hydrogen and...the UK gas networks can provide the capacity required

Almost half of the energy consumed in the UK is used for heat (760 TWh), with around 57% of this (434 TWh) heating 83% of our homes and hot water.

The UK has a world-class gas grid designed to ensure the continued safe and reliable supply of gas, whatever the weather. At its peak, the gas network transports up to five times more energy than the electricity networks. 

If the gas network can be repurposed to transport a zero-carbon gas such as hydrogen, it will be a game changer for the UK, reducing carbon emissions from heat and helping customers to avoid disruptive and expensive changes to their homes, compared to alternative green energy solutions.

Figure 1, produced by Grant Wilson at Sheffield University, demonstrates the size of the decarbonisation challenge.

Source: Grant Wilson at Sheffield University
Figure 1: The decarbonisation challenge: renewables are helping to decarbonise power generation. However, around half of the UK’s energy is used for heat, so replacing the natural gas used presents a huge challenge – or opportunity – for meeting national climate change targets

Article by Mark Horsley

CEO, Northern Gas Networks

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