Local opposition forces relocation of UK’s hydrogen village trials

Image: Cadent

Energy Efficiency Minister Lord Callanan confirmed late on Monday (10 July) that the two-year trials, set to begin in 2025, will not go ahead in Whitby.

He Tweeted to state: “After listening to the views of residents, it’s clear that there is no strong local support, therefore Whitby will no longer be considered as the location for the UK’s first hydrogen village trial.

“Discussions with Northern Gas Networks [regarding] Redcar are ongoing and we’ll announce [the] next steps shortly.”

The trials will impact around 2,000 homes, which will see their boilers replaced with hydrogen-ready models. Blends of hydrogen will be tested first, increasing to 100% hydrogen. The results will inform the Government’s strategic decision on the role of hydrogen in home heating in the future.

Switching to 100% hydrogen will require extensive changes to gas storage and transport networks. But blends could be used as a drop-in solution. Gas companies are, therefore, lobbying for blending. Nonetheless, there are concerns about whether blending would increase both energy bills and lifecycle emissions.

Many Whitby residents opposed the trials taking place in their area, arguing that the Government and the companies involved had not provided clear enough information to allay their concerns about safety.

Local MP Justin Madders said the decision to rule out Whitby was “inevitable” due to the level of protests.

The Government has not formally announced that Whitby definitely will not be used as the trial location, but this announcement is expected in the coming days. Madders is pressing for this “cast iron assurance” as soon as possible.

Gas firm Cadent has already acknowledged the cancellation. It issued a statement reading: “We are incredibly grateful to everyone in Whitby who has given us their time and attention over the last year as we have developed our proposal.

“While Whitby won’t to be the location for the trial, the information we have gained over the last 12 months will still play an invaluable role in shaping how the UK heats its homes and businesses in the future.”

Cadent also stated: “Should the trial progress in Redcar, it will be an important step forward: Northern Gas Networks have our best wishes and full support.”

The Government has stated that it is likely for the trial to go ahead in Redcar to the original timeframe of 2025 to 2027.

Next steps

The UK Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy, published in 2021, delayed a formal and strategic decision on the role of hydrogen in domestic heating until 2026 at the earliest.

Ministers stated that time was needed to trial blends and 100% hydrogen for homes in the real world.

Next year, a ‘hydrogen neighbourhood’ trial is set to begin in Fife. This will be the precursor to the ‘hydrogen village’ trials in Redcar.

Should this prove successful, the Government will scale up to a ‘hydrogen town’, with potential locations and more precise timelines to be considered.

The Government’s own climate advisors have stated that, regardless of what decisions are made for the end-use of hydrogen, current progress to roll out electric heat pumps and connected heat networks is far too slow.

MPs on the Science and Technology Committee warned Ministers late last year that hydrogen will likely have a “specific but limited” role in decarbonising the economy, both as a means of energy storage and a way to decarbonise technologies for which there are no electrified alternatives at present.

This same conclusion has been reached by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and think-tank E3G.

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