Gas networks set out hydrogen blueprint


Britain’s five gas network companies have outlined how they are planning to deliver on the government’s ambitions for hydrogen.

On 21 January, the Energy Networks Association (ENA) published Britain’s Hydrogen Network Plan, as part of the Gas Goes Green programme, setting out how Cadent, National Grid, Northern Gas Networks, SGN, and Wales & West Utilities plan to oversee the transition of the UK’s gas networks from natural gas to hydrogen. It details how the companies aim to progress to be ready to start blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas grid by 2023, ahead of delivering the UK’s first hydrogen town by 2030.

The plan is split into four stages of delivery, commencing with preparations for the transition over the next five years. This will involve continuing the iron mains risk reduction programme, completing the safety case, trialling 100% hydrogen in homes, and carrying out network modelling in a bid to ensure security of supply can be maintained. The information gathered from this first stage will enable government to make policy decisions on the conversion of networks.

From 2025 to 2030, this will progress to solution pilots being carried out, including larger 100% domestic hydrogen pilots, 20% blending taking place in parts of the network, and billing on the basis of energy content, instead of volume, as the iron mains replacement programme continues.

In the 2030s, the networks will scale up, building new hydrogen pipelines between industrial clusters and to connect with storage facilities; connecting hydrogen production to the networks; and, with the iron mains replacement programme now complete, rolling out 100% hydrogen conversion for use in homes, dispersed industry and transport. The full transition will then occur in the 2040s with a national hydrogen network in place and hydrogen a normal part of training for Gas Safe engineers.

Despite the networks setting out their plans to prepare for hydrogen conversion, the plan highlighted a set of wider actions needed outside of their control to ensure hydrogen adoption at scale. This includes sufficient hydrogen production taking place for widespread gas network conversion to occur from 2030, meaning production must expand beyond the needs of industrial clusters, with GW-scale capacity additions required each year; an expansion of hydrogen storage capacity at the level of several hundred GWh per year from 2025; and ensuring that carbon capture and storage is developed at scale in several clusters by 2030, with this cited as “critical” to network conversion to hydrogen.

It set out a set of policy support and decisions needed from government for hydrogen development in all sectors, addressing gaps, such as stating the need for a mandate for hydrogen-ready appliances to be in force no later than 2025, meaning most homes would have them by 2040; hybrid heating systems being supported now for roll-out at scale; and calling for the government’s aim of 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 to be increased to 10GW, warning of the risk of insufficient volumes of hydrogen production being supported.

It also called for a regulated asset base (RAB) framework to be put in place from 2025 for hydrogen storage and from 2030 for domestic conversion; the RIIO2 framework to be managed in a sufficiently supportive, flexible way that allows a range of innovation projects and trials to be carried out in timely fashion; and to make sure the planning system can accommodate a large volume of applications for hydrogen production, storage, pipeline and other facilities, with it currently unclear if it can manage this in a timely manner.