In line with the UK government’s target of building a net-zero economy by 2050, the National Grid has unveiled its plans to build a £10 million Hydrogen Test Power facility that will heat homes and cut carbon emissions caused by heating.
The National Grid announced that it would be working building on a £10 million facility to trial hydrogen as a fuel for heating in the UK. This project will be built at Spadeadam in Cumbria, and will receive support from various organisations including DNV GL – a risk management and energy firm.
The University of Edinburgh, Durham University, and independent regulator HSE’s Science Division are also on board. These institutions will utilise decommissioned assets to build a representative network, and allow the assessment of equipment performance at various transmission pressures.
The electricity operator will also be joined by Fluxys (a Belgian gas network) and Northern Gas Networks (or NGN).
The plans have been submitted to Ofgem by the National Grid. If funding is approved in time, the operator envisages construction at the project site to be ongoing throughout 2021, with testing to begin in 2022.
Blends of up to 100% hydrogen will be tested on the representative network.
This test facility will be built and operated separately from the National Transmission System. This setup will allow the developers to test hydrogen transmission in a controlled environment, which minimises the risk to reliability and safety of the current gas transmission network.
National Grid Project Director Antony Green believes that reaching the UK’s net-zero decarbonisation goals requires the country to address its need to replace methane as a fuel with hydrogen, and other green alternatives. He said that the energy sector – and particularly heating – has proven to be challenging to decarbonise.
Gas networks are crucial to the UK’s existing energy supply, according to Green. Therefore, trial projects like this hydrogen test facility are vital in delivering low carbon energy that can be transmitted safely and reliably to consumers.
Heating homes accounts for between a quarter and a third of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. This is ten times more than the CO2 emitted by the aviation industry.
In the current market, 40% of the country’s power needs – and 85% of households – rely on a gas supply. Additionally, a significant portion of the nation’s cooking is still done using gas stoves, making gas particularly prevalent in the current social climate.
Hydrogen heating has earned a number of advocates in recent years, with many people believing that it could provide next-generation power for gas appliances cleanly and efficiently.
Robert Sansom – lead author of the study ‘Transitioning to Hydrogen’, and Institution of Engineering and Technology panel member – said that hydrogen is supported by experts because there is no difference between it, and natural gas-fuelled heating.
Sansom, along with his colleagues, assessed the uncertainties and risks of switching from natural gas to hydrogen. They concluded that repurposing existing gas networks is achievable, but it won’t be easy since currently there are no suppliers of pure hydrogen to businesses and homes anywhere in the world. If this test project comes through however, it would be the global pioneer in hydrogen heating.
NGN also owns the H21 distribution rig, which is now under construction at Spadeadam. This project is a collaboration involving every gas transmission network in the UK. The scheme is already in its second phase, and demonstrates how the current gas distribution system can be repurposed to carry pure hydrogen safely, and heat UK households and businesses.
NGN programme management head, Tim Hardwood, said that the hydrogen facility would be linked to phase 2 of H21, connecting the transmission assets of the National Grid to the distribution network being established alongside the hydrogen research facility.
The addition of transmission assets will show a complete ‘source-to-meter’ scenario, which will demonstrate how the gas sector can collaborate to build a hydrogen-powered future.
Interest in hydrogen-powered heating began in 2016 with the H21 project. Reports have also shown that the conversion to hydrogen could parallel the 1960s-1970s transition from town gas to natural gas.
Several manufacturers have already moved to back a hydrogen future by developing appliances that are ready to be fuelled by pure hydrogen. A prototype broiler has already been unveiled by Worcester Bosch, which would run initially on natural gas and later on hydrogen after a servicing visit.