Local gas networks set to be key to hydrogen and net zero


Local gas networks can enable a substantial hydrogen market and play an essential role in meeting Europe’s climate targets, according to the Ready4H2 Alliance.

On 15 February, Ready4H2 published a report, exploring the value of local hydrogen distribution networks in a decarbonised Europe. It stressed that a net zero Europe will need both green electrons and green molecules, with hydrogen and green methane playing a crucial role alongside energy efficiency and electrification. With local gas networks able to deliver reliable, cost-effective and safe pipeline distribution to millions of customers, it stated its belief they will also add value to address the challenges in achieving the huge growth and carbon reduction potential of hydrogen in Europe.

As wind and solar power grows rapidly, Europe’s energy system will become increasingly reliant on non-dispatchable generation, meaning the impact of cloudy and windless winter weeks rises. Gas infrastructure will be key to managing these periods and can be repurposed to transport hydrogen from decentralised production to consumers and the European hydrogen market, strengthening the hydrogen supply chain.

It outlined how gas infrastructure can handle large seasonality in demand, ensuring reliable supply of hydrogen even in the coldest winters. Electricity infrastructure, in contrast, mostly deals with demand that is comparably flat over the course of the year, making heating electrification appear challenging. Large-scale hydrogen underground storage facilities linked to gas networks are the only fast-acting long-lasting storage capacity at enormous scale that can cope with variable power production and demand for gas among European consumers. Therefore, today’s gas infrastructure, with some local changes, can meet peak demand for hydrogen and green methane, and become a pillar of sector integration.

Local gas networks, it explained, provide a flexible decarbonisation pathway for customers. They are well-positioned to distribute and manage varying local blends of molecules and well placed to convert relatively swiftly to adapt 100% hydrogen. More than 1mn km of the pipeline material is ready to conversion to pure hydrogen, representing more than 95% of the combined network of Ready4H2 members.

Furthermore, with 99% of industrial and commercial gas end-users connected to local gas networks, this makes them crucial in bringing the European hydrogen backbone to life and delivering large volumes of hydrogen to millions of customers. They will facilitate a competitive hydrogen market by connecting more users across Europe which, in turn, will help to keep industry in Europe. This is down to hydrogen being the most cost-effective decarbonisation option for local industry, meaning a local hydrogen network will reduce carbon leakage.

Specifically, its analysis found that in a decarbonisation scenario including significant volumes of hydrogen and green methane, investment in the combined power and gas infrastructure is forecast to save €41bn a year, in comparison to a power dominated one. This means a relatively small additional investment in gas infrastructure can save tens of billions in power infrastructure development per year. It noted that local networks, both gas and power, will need investment to deliver these savings.