Hydrogen has “key role” in the future of energy


Featured image: Hydrogen supply in 2050 by technology (TWh)

Hydrogen has been found to play a “key role” across all of National Grid ESO’s net zero pathways, as outlined in its latest Future Energy Scenarios (FES) study.

FES 2022, published on 18 July, explored four credible pathways for the future of energy between now and 2050. Through its most ambitious pathway – Leading the Way – strategic investment in infrastructure to onboard clean energy, making the system smarter and more flexible, and reforming the wholesale electricity market, many benefits can be unlocked, Britain’s dependence on foreign energy reduced and the economy insulated from geopolitical shocks, with net zero reached as early as 2047.

Net zero is also reached in System Transformation and Consumer Transformation by 2050. Falling Short, the slowest credible decarbonisation pathway, is the only one where it is missed and, instead, almost reaches the UK’s previous target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on 1990 levels.

Hydrogen features through all of the pathways, though the ESO acknowledged it has a very wide range in terms of how much energy demand it meets and how it is produced, with clarity needed “as soon as possible” on its future role, especially in residential heating. This will support the strategy coordination and whole energy system required to reach net zero.

Hydrogen is most prominent in the System Transformation pathway, where it is in high demand for heat, transport, industry and power generation and the 10GW hydrogen production target is met in 2032. This means that strong support and clear direction from the government will be needed from the mid-2020s to help supply and demand grow quickly over the 2030s.

The transition will start in industrial clusters, with these hubs connected to the existing natural gas network which will be converted to transport hydrogen. From 2025 to 2043, hydrogen will be blended into the gas grid, before dedicated hydrogen networks take over. It found methane reformation will be the dominant form of hydrogen production initially, ahead of electrolysis taking over when growth slows in the mid-2040s. Significant seasonal storage will also be needed in this scenario to ensure sufficient supply for winter peak, with hydrogen used for heating. Therefore, 56TWh of stored hydrogen, available by 2050, is expected, sitting in salt caverns.

Consumer Transformation sees the lowest hydrogen supply of all the net zero scenarios, with electricity prioritised for heating. Hydrogen helps the operation of the whole energy system, with excess renewable electricity used to product it. The 10GW production target is only achieved in 2042. Falling Short, meanwhile, sees little to no demand for hydrogen, with production facilities mostly located to areas of industrial demand.

Under the most ambitious pathway – Leading the Way – hydrogen is regarded as a key enabler for rapid decarbonisation in all sectors. This would see electrolysis capacity built rapidly over the 2020s, with the UK hitting its 10GW hydrogen production target by 2030. Almost all of this would be networked electrolysis. Electrolysers would be built near sources of renewable generation and able to mitigate congestion on the electricity network, something made possible as these facilities would be connected to a local hydrogen transmission network, allowing it to be transported to where it is needed.

It further mapped out how offshore electrolysers will be built alongside wind farms in the 2030s, allowing hydrogen to be transported to shore. It will be blended into he gas grid between 2025 and 2038 as part of a transition to 100% hydrogen. Demand for hydrogen will come from a mix of heating and industrial needs, as well as road transport, shipping and aviation, with this scenario making maximum use of electrolysis, either onshore and offshore. It recommended that electrolysis capacity is developed in line with renewable generation as this will help to minimise curtailment.