For a large gas distribution operator like Northern Gas Networks (NGN), keeping its millions of customers going is the number one priority. Examining the role that hydrogen might play in the future is at the heart of the H21 Programme, which NGN presented at The Energyst’s “Gas: What’s in the pipeline” webinar.
H21 is a series of projects looking at what we need to do to move to 100% hydrogen, explained Joanna Ferguson. In its essence, the programme aims to demonstrate the suitability of the existing gas network to transport hydrogen.
Because more than 30% of CO2 emissions in the UK come from gas, the imperative to act is undeniable. Through H21, NGN is testing live assets to ensure that safety requirements are still met while using hydrogen.
“We’ve consulted with domestic consumers and most of them are very accepting of it,” says Ferguson. “We’ve had very little by way of a negative response.” Consulting industrial and commercial customers is next on the agenda.
The prime focus for the distribution operator is to establish a safety case by 2025. This would create the conditions for the next steps whereby a full transition away from gas can be rolled out from 2030 onwards, explains Keith Owen, head of systems development and energy strategy at NGN.
“There are technical elements to overcome, and that’s what is happening right now,” he says, “but the really tricky bit is getting the market organised, the supply chain established and joining everything up in a cohesive programme.”
Owen says the government should start thinking about schemes that promote hydrogen-ready appliances, to create the conditions to start migrating customers across from 2030. “We need to aim for the sweet spot where it’s good for customers — no major fuss and no cost shocks,” he adds.
The significant differences that exist between gas and hydrogen in terms of composition, viscosity and other characteristics call for detailed modelling and careful planning.
“There aren’t any true silver bullets in all of this. There are challenges both on the gas side and the electricity side, and it’s about collaboration and finding the right solutions depending on which part of the UK you’re in.”