As the technology for utilising grid-scale hydrogen matures, the question of what to do with it is becoming more than academic. Given the relatively untried nature of technology, with all its potential costs and risks, grid-scale energy providers have been hesitant to take the plunge and invest in a whole new generation of hydrogen infrastructure. But in the north of England, that might be about to change.
Northern Gas Networks, the company responsible for distributing gas across Yorkshire and the north-east, has just raised the possibility of commiting radically to hydrogen technology. In its April report Energising the North, it laid out its ‘H21 Leeds city gate project’, which plans to convert the entire city of Leeds (760,000) from natural gas to hydrogen over the next fifteen years:
The H21 Leeds city gate project has proved, via a desktop exercise, that the current gas network in the UK (and in particular Leeds) is large enough to convert to hydrogen. It is therefore likely that, were the hydrogen economy to commence in the UK, Leeds would be the first network to convert.
The conversion would take place step by step and use the natural gas infrastructure for deliver hydrogen for heating and cooking. It could be paid for in instalments, via energy bills. The timing is also good for such a revolutionary change, as Leeds’ old iron gas pipes are being phased out anyway. By 2030 the city will have a polyethylene network that could take hydrogen.
It’s an expensive prospect, but NGN is banking on the idea that grid-scale hydrogen will take off across the UK, and that the expertise gained from a trial run in Leeds would set the region up to become the UK leader in this new industry.
The UK has made great strides in recent years to decarbonise its economy, but as long as its cities rely on natural gas for heating and cooking, there is a limit to how green the network can become. Widespread conversion from gas to hydrogen would be another huge step towards hitting Britain’s emissions target of an 80 per cent cut in emissions on 1990 levels by 2050.
Nonetheless, there is a long way to go before this plan becomes a reality. NGN is currently seeking £55 million in funding to develop a 100 page roadmap. That plan is scheduled for release next year, at which point the city will decide whether or not to commit to this audacious scheme.