The UK Government has been urged to increase policy support for hydrogen blending after it was revealed the country’s gas grid will be ready for distributors to begin using hydrogen and natural gas blends from 2023.
The Energy Networks Association (ENA) says all five of Britain’s gas grid companies will be able to complete the minimal required pipe upgrades to deliver a 20% hydrogen blend from that date.
Its newly published delivery plan for scaling hydrogen blending across the UK also reassures the public that such blend levels will not require them to change their boilers, cookers or radiators.
UK regulations currently limit the blend to a maximum of 0.1% hydrogen in public gas networks and 23% hydrogen in closed networks, and, to date, 20% blends have only been trialled.
Northern Gas Networks’ HyDeploy project, developed with Keele University, Cadent and Progressive Energy, involved a 20% hydrogen blend being injected into an existing gas network and when it was shown that there was no impact on gas users, a public network trial followed involving 670 homes and a school in Winlaton, Gateshead.
Two options for how the Government could deliver blending infrastructure networks are detailed in the ENA’s report. The first pathway, called the ‘strategic approach’, would see the Government only permitting new hydrogen generation capacity and blending connections in the most suitable locations. The second pathway, the ‘free market approach’, would let networks decide where to inject hydrogen.
Hydrogen procurement, the ENA predicts, will be more of a challenge than infrastructure upgrades. The Association is calling on the UK Government to increase its 2030 target for domestic “low-carbon” hydrogen generation from 5GW to 10GW.
The 5GW target was included in the Ten-Point Plan in 2020 and featured again in the Hydrogen Strategy published last August. It covers green hydrogen made using renewable electricity and blue hydrogen made using natural gas, co-located with carbon capture technology.
The ENA is also encouraging the Government to consider making a decision on the place of hydrogen for heating buildings before 2026. This is the date earmarked in the Heat and Buildings Strategy and was chosen because trials of the UK’s first village using 100% hydrogen for heating and cooking are due to be completed in 2025.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) opened a call to evidence on the future of gas systems last year, so the ENA is calling on Ministers to use the findings – and its own recommendations – to shape future policy proposals.
‘What’s key is that the Government does its bit by lifting its target for home-grown hydrogen production this decade,’ said ENA chief David Smith. ‘Doing that today will help gas grid companies deliver for tomorrow.’
Hydrogen produces no greenhouse gas emissions at the point of combustion, so is considered a potential solution for decarbonising heating, although the carbon footprint across the lifecycle of the gas will vary depending on how it is produced.
Most hydrogen production, globally, is fossil-fired, and is currently the trend in the UK where 27TwH of hydrogen was produced last year, mainly from fossil fuels as the cheapest production method.
BEIS has also launched a new funding programme to explore the potential for scaling the production of hydrogen made using carbon captured at facilities burning biomass and waste to generate energy.
The programme includes a £5m funding pot, where companies, researchers and collaborative initiatives can bid for a grant with each project receiving a maximum of £250,000. The £5m forms part of the Treasury’s £1bn Net-Zero Innovation Portfolio, first announced in the Budget last March.