Hydrogen set to be crucial part of UK’s net zero pathway


Hydrogen will prove critical to the UK reaching net zero, solving some of the hardest parts of the transition, namely HGVs, shipping and aviation, according to a report.

On 12 July, National Grid ESO published its Future Energy Scenarios 2021, mapping out four credible energy pathways for Britain over the coming decades, along with the level of societal change and policy direction needed to achieve targets. In three of the four scenarios, Britain reaches net zero by 2050 while in the most ambitious scenario, Leading the Way, the country becomes net negative by 2050, having reached net zero by 2047.

The supply and use of hydrogen was found to be central to all net zero scenarios. Electrolysis introduces significant flexibility to the electricity network, while hybrid heat pumps and hydrogen boilers replace natural gas. Storage capacity was also deemed to be as important as production facilities, ensuring the maximum whole energy system benefit can be gained.

Transitioning to hydrogen and using it to heat homes will not be as simple as just using the natural gas pipe network to transport it. Additionally, infrastructure and governance must be in place, along with producers, suppliers and network operators and sufficient demand. For example, for the 2030 target of 5GW of production capacity to be met, there will have to be a rapid increase in demand over the 2020s or spare production capacity built in anticipation of demand at a later date. Leading the Way assumes the target will be met through government support, though initially operating at a reduced load factor. System Transformation sees it reached in 2032, though also at reduced capacity.

Furthermore, through government support to build capacity and demand, such as enabling blending in the network or more incentivised use in transport and industry, could see the 5GW target met with higher load factors in these scenarios.

Considering the emergence of industrial clusters with a demand for hydrogen, the ESO assumed that they will act as an anchor for hydrogen supply within a particular region. They could be connected by a hydrogen backbone, supplying and storing hydrogen, while supporting increased use across the country. In System Transformation and Leading the Way, it is assumed hydrogen supply to the wider region grows out of these hubs. Adequate hydrogen storage is as important as production, providing additional energy at times of peak demand. It was found to rapidly increase in System Transformation, which has the highest proportion of hydrogen use, reaching over 50TWh by 2050.

In System Transformation, the nationwide gas grid is almost entirely converted to transport hydrogen by 2045. It sees 70% of hydrogen come from methane reformation with green hydrogen, nuclear and biomass gasification providing additional volumes, while the use of biomass and carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) contributes almost 10%. In Leading the Way, meanwhile, demand for hydrogen comes from a mixture of heating and industrial needs, along with road transport, shipping and aviation. It also sees maximum use of electrolysis, either onshore or offshore, with hydrogen produced from a limited amount of biomass gasification.

Featured Image: Hydrogen supply in 2050, source: National Grid ESO