Hydrogen blending ready for UK-wide rollout next year, industry body announces

The UK's gas grid will be ready for distributors to begin using hydrogen and natural gas blends from 2023, industry body the Energy Networks Association (ENA) has stated, urging Ministers to increase policy support for the move.

Hydrogen blending ready for UK-wide rollout next year, industry body announces

Image: ENA

The Association, which represents the UK’s gas and electricity transmission and distribution licence holders, has today (13 January) published a delivery plan for scaling hydrogen blending across the UK. According to the plan, all five of Britain’s gas grid companies will be capable of completing the necessary pipe upgrades to deliver a 20% hydrogen blend from winter 2023-2024. Minimal upgrades will be required, the report concludes.

UK regulations 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. For example, Northern Gas Networks’ ‘HyDeploy’ project, delivered in partnership with Keele University, Cadent and Progressive Energy, saw a 20% hydrogen blend injected into an existing gas network. It was found that this had no impact on the gas users, paving the way for a public network trial featuring 670 homes and a school in Winlaton, Gateshead.

The ENA is reassuring the public that blends of 20% will not require them to change their boilers, cookers or radiators.

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 market players decide where to inject hydrogen.

Hydrogen procurement, the ENA is forecasting, will be more of a challenge than infrastructure upgrades. The body 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 reiterated in the Hydrogen Strategy, published in August 2021. 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 slated 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) notably 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 – in shaping 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 touted as a solution for decarbonising sectors including heating. However, 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 this trend can be seen in the UK. The nation produced around 27TwH of hydrogen in 2021, mainly from fossil fuels. This economy of scale means that, at present, fossil hydrogen is the cheapest. Governments and the private sector have committed to bucking this price trend in the coming years.

Hydrogen BECCS

In related news, BEIS has this week 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 is headlined by a £5m funding pot, whereby companies, academics and collaborative initiatives are invited to bid for a share of grant funding. Each project will receive a maximum of £250,000. The £5m forms part of the Treasury’s overarching £1bn Net-Zero Innovation Portfolio, first announced at the Budget in March 2021. 

Sarah George

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