Using hydrogen, instead of natural gas, for heating can help the UK to reach net carbon neutrality by 2050, according to research by Imperial College London.
On 6 October, it set out the findings of a study published in the journal, Energy & Environment Science, where Imperial researchers had sought to assess how the UK could convert its national heating network from using natural gas to hydrogen. Natural gas currently accounts for half of Europe’s heat demand, with national shares as high as 80% in the UK and the Netherlands. Hydrogen, it said, can serve as a clean alternative and is capable of being distributed through existing infrastructure with minimal adjustments.
However, according to the researchers, setting up and running hydrogen-based heating could cost three times as much as natural gas – the levelised costs of a hydrogen-based heat supply were found to range between 5.2-8.6 pence per kWh compared to 1.0-2.8p/kWh for natural gas under a hybrid Regulated Asset Base (RAB) commercial framework, with private enterprises delivering production infrastructure. Hydrogen-derived heat would likely need a Contract for Difference (CfD) payment between £20/MWh and £53/MWh to be competitive in the market until a CO2 price of £104-268 per ton is reached, eliminating the need for support.
While a transition to a hydrogen-based heating system is technically feasible today on the basis of commercially available technologies, the researchers stressed that government has an important role to play, acting as a “market maker” to enable the transition.
With high deployment rates required for carbon neutrality by 2050, it necessitates prompt action, the researchers said. This means there is insufficient time to innovate and scale-up new technologies within this period. Instead, it set out that a low-carbon hydrogen-based heat supply can be developed cost effectively through the deployment of reforming technologies, with carbon capture storage (CCS) and negative emissions technologies (NETs) using large-scale hydrogen storage in salt caverns and CO2 storage in deep geological reservoirs. A tenfold expansion in hydrogen storage capacity to around 65TWh would cut total system costs by at least 20%.
Fast tracking the rollout of a national hydrogen infrastructure would allow time for cost effective renewable hydrogen options to be developed. Then, the first production assets with CCS could be retired in the period between 2050-2060, when improvements in water electrolysis technology and lower electricity costs in that timeframe could enable a low-cost transition to an electrolytic hydrogen supply.