Simon Chaffer, H21 Commercial Manager, Northern Gas Networks (NGN) gave a presentation in relation to the H21 Project. The Leeds City Gate Project in 2016 confirmed that it was technically possible to convert the existing gas network in the UK to hydrogen. In 2018, OFGEM (Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) awarded £9 million to four gas networks: Cadent, Northern Gas Networks, SGN and Wales and West Utilities, to work together on how the network could be converted.
The Climate Change Act 2008 placed a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for all six Kyoto greenhouse gases for the year 2050 was at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline by 2050. Currently that target was a long way off and the heat market provided a good opportunity to decarbonise through converting to hydrogen. The Governments Clean Growth Strategy recognised that hydrogen was a feasible option that would help decarbonise the network.
Hydrogen was carbon free and could be extracted from natural gas, whereas natural gas (methane) emitted carbon when lit. In the 1960s/1970s the UK had successfully converted from coal gas to town gas. It was proposed to utilise the existing gas infrastructure which would minimise the environmental impact. A transformation system would be needed to link into existing infrastructure and gas powered appliances would need to be converted.
By 2032 the current programme to replace gas mains would be completed and it was possible that funding currently awarded for that could then be used to replace infrastructure. There would also be a cost to replace appliances. In addition to the H21 Project, the Government had awarded £25 million to Arup, to consider everything inside domestic, commercial and industrial properties,that would need converting. This project was called Hy4Heat. The conversion of both the network and appliances would have to take place incrementally.
The H21 Project was now gathering critical evidence. Phase 1a was background testing. Assets such as pipes that were being replaced, were being removed from the existing network and taken for testing. Sections of pipe would undergo rigorous testing to ascertain whether they would leak hydrogen. Some of the pipes had been in-situ since the 1900s and previously been repaired with various chemicals. There were about 200 tests that could be carried out. Phase 1b was consequence testing - looking at how hydrogen would react if it leaked into properties, or what might happen if a pipe was fractured.
For Phase 2, NGN were seeking a suitable site to use as the Field Trial Site to enable tests to be performed on operational scenarios in a more representative location to enhance the tests already completed. The H21 team would produce a "conceptual design" that could be applied to whichever site was chosen. Testing would also ensure that the workforce would be safe to continue to operate in the same manner as they did now.
The strategic evidence compiled for the North of England conversion calculated that over 17 million tonnes of carbon would be removed per annum. The conversion would take from 2028 to 2035, and cover 12.5% of the UK population in Middlesbrough, Newcastle, York, Hull, Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Halifax, Manchester and Liverpool. It could support decarbonisation of transport with hydrogen fuelling stations and electric with decentralised and centralised generation. The total cost of implementation would be less than building a nuclear power station (over £20 billion) but decarbonise over five times the energy.
The H21 Project had identified what could potentially be implemented, but the Government would need to make a policy decision by the end of 2023 to meet the proposed timescales and the Climate Change Act targets. Converting to 100% hydrogen was one of the most viable options to deliver the Climate Change commitments, however other projects which involved blending hydrogen were also being considered. The cost of funding the project also needed to be determined by the Government.
In terms of creating job opportunities, it was anticipated that the network conversion could bring tens of thousands of jobs to the north-east. As well as engineers and construction workers, new appliances would need to be designed, produced and built for use with hydrogen. A social science study was being undertaken with Leeds Beckett University to consider peoples perception of converting to hydrogen and the opportunities this might bring. NGN was working with Universities to help people understand and share the opportunities. Teesside University was also working with the TVCA on hydrogen conversion.
Members were keen to discuss the safety aspects of hydrogen since it was as explosive as natural gas, but also less dense. Similar to natural gas, hydrogen did not smell, and it was likely that a smell would be added to it, following public consultation. Some form of hydrogen detector would also need to be developed.
AGREED that the information provided was received and noted.