H21: Hydrogen could decarbonise 15% of UK homes by 2034

Northern Gas Networks have today released the H21 North of England report which sets out detailed plans on how hydrogen could be used as a way to deliver clean energy to millions of homes across the North of England. It outlines how over 3.7 million homes and 40,000 businesses and industries in the north of England that are heated by natural gas could be converted to hydrogen by 2034. The project also proposes a six-phase UK rollout which could see a further 12 million homes across the rest of the country converted to hydrogen by 2050.

The UK is ready to lead the way in reducing CO2 emissions with the world’s largest clean energy project, which will contribute towards reducing carbon emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. Currently, over 30% of emissions come from domestic heating and cooking.

Chris Stark, Chief Executive, UK Committee on Climate Change said The CCC welcome this report and recognises the potential H21 has to make a large impact in UK and global climate change obligations.  We have advised UK Government that a credible, deliverable policy decision to provide deep decarbonisation of heat across the UK needs to be taken within the next parliament.  The H21 North of England project has the potential to significantly help and inform and subsequently deliver on such a decision.”

The H21 North of England report finds that converting the UK gas grid to hydrogen has the ability to provide “deep decarbonisation” of heat, as well as transport and power generation, with minimal disruption to customers. This has the combined potential to reduce carbon emissions by over 258 million tonnes a year by 2050, equating to over 80% of the UK’s remaining reduction target.

The proposals will see homes across the north of England begin to be converted in 2028, with expansion across 3.7 million properties in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, York, Huddersfield, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Teesside and Newcastle over the following seven years. The cost of the project is estimated to be £22.7bn. The report has been led by Northern Gas Networks in partnership with Cadent and Norwegian energy company Equinor, who all expect hydrogen to play a major role in meeting carbon reduction targets in the UK and across the world. The report claims this would be “the world’s largest CO2 emission reduction project, preventing 12.5 million tonnes of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere each year”.

The hydrogen will be produced from natural gas at a 12 gigawatt production facility with carbon capture technology, generating enough hydrogen to fuel homes and industries in the north of England. The production facility would use underground salt caverns used to safely store hydrogen until required, ensuring there is more than enough to meet demand during the coldest times of year. This same process is already used for storing natural gas. The by-product of the process, carbon dioxide, would be stored safely in saline aquifers such as those in the Southern North Sea off the north east coast of England. The hydrogen produced will be transported to the local city grids in a new high pressure transmission system designed with extra capacity to enable future supply for industry, power and transport.

Dan Sadler, H21 Programme Director, Northern Gas Networks said: “If rolled out UK-wide, this detailed engineering solution has the potential to decarbonise 70% of domestic heat by 2050, and represents a huge leap towards our country meeting the Climate Change challenge. If the Government is to meet its legally-binding carbon reduction targets, it cannot afford to miss out on the opportunities presented by decarbonising the UK gas network and its associated impact on other industries”.

If expanded to the rest of the UK, the project would see a total 15.7 million homes converted to hydrogen by 2050, creating over a hundred thousand jobs and covering 70% of all domestic, industrial and commercial heat across the UK. The H21 North of England report says the next step is to progress into the Front End Engineering and Design (FEED) phase. The FEED phase would be a 3-4 year programme starting in 2019 to detail the technical solution towards a final investment decision by 2023. The report calls on the Government and industry to share the cost of this study, as a sign of future commitment on both sides.

The report states that this “deep decarbonisation” of heat would stimulate the rollout of other hydrogen technology, such as hydrogen appliances, fuel cells, production technologies, cars, buses, trains and even planes which are all already being developed in the UK. The UK Government has expressed enthusiasm for the potential of hydrogen and has recently invested over £60m for research into conversion technology as part of its modern industrial strategy. It is hoped the UK will become the global leader in hydrogen conversion, creating thousands of new well-paid domestic jobs along with a lucrative export market available to sell skills and technology across the world.